Skip to main content

How to regulate pot when it's legal

By David Nathan, Special to CNN
updated 12:28 PM EDT, Tue August 27, 2013
Public perceptions about pot have come a long way, from the dire warnings of "Reefer Madness" to growing acceptance of medical marijuana to the legalization of recreational weed use. Public perceptions about pot have come a long way, from the dire warnings of "Reefer Madness" to growing acceptance of medical marijuana to the legalization of recreational weed use.
HIDE CAPTION
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Nathan: Medical marijuana debate obscures the issue of legalizing recreational use
  • In legalizing pot, he says, concerns of both sides of the issue need to be considered
  • Nathan: Goals are to keep it out of the hands of minors, reduce harm to adults, get revenue
  • Nathan: Opponents and supporters of legalization must listen to each other's concerns

Editor's note: David L. Nathan, a clinical associate professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, was inducted as a Distinguished Fellow at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco. He teaches and practices general adult psychiatry in Princeton, New Jersey.

(CNN) -- It's becoming a cliché: The tide is turning in the debate over cannabis. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, publicly reversed his position and now supports medical cannabis. Republican Gov. Chris Christie just expanded New Jersey's medicinal marijuana laws. In the past month, New Hampshire and Illinois have become the 19th and 20th states to approve medical marijuana.

But the debate over medical marijuana obscures the more fundamental issue of our failed war on pot and the path to smart legalization.

I had an opportunity to explore the full range of perspectives in the marijuana debate at the recent 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. What I learned can be simply stated: Nationwide cannabis legalization is coming and smart regulation is the key to its success.

At the convention, held in San Francisco, I listened to and spoke with respected leaders of the opposition to cannabis legalization, who are mostly specialized in the treatment of substance use disorders.

David Nathan
David Nathan

The Bay Area is a proving ground for California's liberal medical marijuana laws. Amanda Reiman, policy manager for the California branch of the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance, took me on a tour of local cannabis dispensaries. And Oaksterdam University invited me to speak at their makeshift headquarters -- their previous location was closed after a DEA raid last year -- where classes are offered on all things cannabis.

The dispensaries are largely self-regulated, yet all facilities are immaculate, security is tight, and members of the staff are knowledgeable about the science of cannabis. Surely not all points of access are as well-run as these dispensaries, but they could be. And only with legalization and regulation can we expect that they would be.

Most legalization advocates and opponents share concerns about underage pot use, an opposition to incarcerating users, and a recognition that marijuana is less harmful to adults than alcohol.

Opinion: Americans agree, pot is no crime

Most agree public opinion has shifted in favor of cannabis legalization, although the two groups have strongly divergent feelings about the change. A minority of advocates call for America to "free the weed" with few restrictions, while opponents at the American Psychiatric Association fear that legalization would lead to "a nation of drunken stoners" after an anticipated rise in adolescent use of this and other drugs.

Gupta: I was wrong about marijuana
Gupta: Weed not a gateway drug
Gupta: I was wrong about marijuana
White House clarifies stance on pot

The substance abuse treatment community has legitimate concerns, and recreational cannabis should not be legalized -- for minors.

If national polls are correct, and wisdom prevails, then America is rapidly moving toward legal cannabis for adults. We must stop arguing about the right of consenting adults to consume a relatively safe recreational drug, and discuss how -- rather than whether -- cannabis should be properly regulated by the federal government.

First, consider the four essential goals of marijuana regulation: keeping cannabis out of the hands of minors; reducing harm to adult users; preventing collateral harm to the public and getting the maximum economic benefit from legalization.

Our approach to federal regulation should synthesize the perspectives of both advocates and opponents of legalization. We should look to research on laws controlling alcohol, tobacco and gambling. We can also learn from Colorado and Washington, which have developed regulations for recreational cannabis, and the 18 other states -- plus the District of Columbia -- that have legalized medical marijuana.

We can achieve the essential goals of regulation if we:

• Require proper labeling of cannabis products, including the quantities of key ingredients like THC and CBD.

• Test cannabis products for contaminants and label accuracy.

• Require government supervision of all facilities involved in the production, distribution and sale of cannabis.

• Limit advertising, sales and public consumption of cannabis products the way we do with alcohol and/or tobacco.

• Ban cannabis packaging and advertising that targets or attracts underage users.

• Require child-resistant packaging for edible cannabis products.

• Impose penalties on adults who enable minors to get marijuana.

• Allow adults to grow a small number of cannabis plants for personal use.

• Prosecute cannabis-impaired driving with field sobriety tests.

• Continue restrictions on cannabis use by professionals and laborers when scientific evidence indicates that such use risks public safety.

• Empower states and municipalities to restrict the cannabis trade within their borders.

• Fund education of adults about the use and abuse of cannabis.

• Fund preventive youth education about the dangers of underage cannabis use.

• Fund treatment of adults and minors with cannabis use disorders.

• Tax all aspects of the cannabis trade at the highest rate that the free market will bear, using a portion of the proceeds to fund regulation, education and treatment.

Just as responsible fishermen support the conservation of marine ecosystems, even marijuana enthusiasts can offer smart ideas for the successful legalization of cannabis, the fiercest critics of pot legalization have legitimate concerns, particularly about pot's effects on developing brains of young people. Advocates and opponents need to come together for an open-minded discussion about the regulation of marijuana in the United States.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Nathan.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT