Marijuana advocate rejects "scare tactics" over deaths, fourth graders selling pot at school

Over the past few weeks, critics of marijuana legalization have drawn attention to several news stories they see as demonstrating the dangers of more accessible weed. First, the death of a college student and the murder of a mom were linked to marijuana edibles, and now, the local and national media is giving big play to reports about Greeley ten-year-olds who sold pot on the playground of their elementary school.

Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project and one of the main proponents for Colorado's Amendment 64, sees such reactions as part of an age-old practice of demonizing cannabis that won't derail the push for progressive marijuana policies here and beyond.

One fourth grader at Monfort Elementary is said to have sold marijuana obtained from his grandparents' supply to three others for $11. The next day, one of the buyers brought a pot edible also grabbed from a grandparents' stash to the seller, who ate it. He didn't become ill as a result, saying he felt no effects.

The quartet has been suspended, with administrators at Monfort doing their best to comfort concerned parents in a letter on view below. But even though no one was hurt, the national press is giving the tale wide circulation. Note a Washington Post item that includes links to reporting by ABC, CBS and Reuters.

Tvert sees such coverage as selective in the extreme. "There are surely kids getting their hands on their parents' or grandparents' alcohol and painkillers all over the country," he notes, "but we don't usually hear about them."

As for the accessibility of marijuana here, Tvert argues that "marijuana is more controlled in Colorado than in any state in the nation."

Nonetheless, incidents like the Monfort pot sale and the aforementioned deaths raise concerns for media figures such as Steve Kelley, on whose KNUS-AM radio show I appeared yesterday. Does Tvert fear the stories could give fresh momentum to marijuana legalization opponents?

"There are some people who are less evolved on this issue than others," he maintains. "But most Americans are no longer falling for these scare tactics. The fact is, marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol. They can try to look for any possible case to suggest marijuana is harmful, but in the end, we know that regulating it is a far more effective way of controlling it than prohibition.

"These are the same exact efforts to demonize marijuana that we've always seen -- only that they're being employed in a state where marijuana is more controlled than it is anywhere else in the country," he continues. "If these folks who are supposedly so concerned about public safety are saying nothing about the harms associated with alcohol, and aren't working to keep alcohol out of young people's hands, they clearly care more about hating marijuana than they do about protecting the public."

Here's the aforementioned letter about the Monfort Elementary incident.

Monfort Elementary School Letter

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive circa April 2: "Marijuana edible contributed to Levy Thamba's fatal fall, coroner says."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts