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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why you should write letters to the paper

A reporter wrote this article claiming that legalizing marijuana would be a big mistake.

More than 1,200 people have shared it on Facebook. Which is how I saw it!,0,1710872.column

So I wrote her back via email. I said:


I am a professor of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University; I teach and do research on national drug control policy.

I read your article about marijuana legalization and feel like you are doing a disservice to your readers.

First, I agree that young people should not smoke pot. And thus it should be a concern that marijuana use among young people is increasing (although it is clear from the evidence that marijuana is a safer choice
than alcohol; alcohol leads to the most psychopharmacological violence of all drugs among young people and also is responsible for the greatest share of antisocial behavior on college campuses).

Yet, it does not therefore logically follow that marijuana should be illegal for adults. We can in fact express the clearest of dissatisfaction and disapproval for young people using drugs while simultaneously allowing responsible adults the right to do so. It's a proven fact that if you treat teenagers like adults and they actually
are more likely to act like it.

Any policy, including drug prohibition, should be assessed in two ways:

1) Does it meet its goals?
2) Do its benefits outweigh its costs?

Any policy that meets its goals and offers benefits that outweigh its costs is a successful policy.

Drug prohibition does neither. There are dozens of books from people of all ideological perspectives that now show this so clearly. Some of that evidence can be found in my article here: Robinson, Matthew B.
(2010). Toward a More Useful National Drug Control Strategy. /Justice
Policy Journal/, 7(1), 1-49.
See article <> (PDF Format)

Thus, legalization is a real alternative worthy of serious consideration. Frankly, it should not be ruled out so easily with terms like "smoke and mirrors." In fact, it has serious, even scholarly proponents, like myself and many others, who base their decisions on real evidence (and not just that offered by the DEA, who obviously has a vested interest in the status quo).

Obviously, no one knows what would happen if drugs like marijuana were legalized; it is a safe bet that we would benefit greatly overall (even if use went up, overall costs would still be substantially down).

I'd be happy to talk with you about this, especially if you are willing to write a follow-up piece that makes the opposite argument to promote critical thinking in your readers.

Dr. Matt Robinson

And guess what? She's invited me to write a response where I get to argue the other side.

And that's why you should write letters to papers.


  1. This reporter has to be the one who is actually high. "...bemoaning a national spike in teen pot smoking and attributing it largely to society's growing tolerance of marijuana use." Tolerance? Not in this country, nor many others for that matter. The numbers clearly show that marijuana arrests in American have steadily gone up over the past two decades--to well over 800,000 arrests in 2008. Not to mention that marijuana arrests now comprise nearly 44% of all drug arrests in the United States.

  2. Nice critical thinking jonesbs1. That's a great point about arrests countering her argument about tolerance. Yes, the "war on drugs" continues to rage on. Nice job.