Provider weighs in on marijuana policy: What's your take? | Addiction Professional Magazine Skip to content Skip to navigation

Provider weighs in on marijuana policy: What's your take?

October 10, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Our article last week that featured comments suggesting that treatment providers are missing an important opportunity to weigh in against next month's marijuana legalization initiatives received an initial response from a provider, but one with a different point of view from those quoted in the original article.

Here is what A. Tom Horvath, PhD, president of San Diego-based Practical Recovery and a leading voice for alternatives to 12-Step support, had to say in a communication to me at the end of the week:

“Legalizing substances will likely reduce problems overall, not increase them,” Horvath wrote. “Of course there will be individual exceptions. However, Europe and Portugal in particular have fewer substance problems than we do.”

Horvath continued, “As a treatment provider I wholeheartedly support decriminalization of all substances. Portugal leads the way, but several countries are not far behind. Their experiences have been convincing as far as I am concerned.”

Horvath sees internal conflict in treatment providers' thinking. “Much of American addiction treatment is caught in a contradiction: consider addiction as a disease, but support punishment of users as if they are criminals.”

We want to hear from other providers out there, especially in states considering marijuana ballot items this November. How prominent is this topic on your radar right now, and where do you stand on the issue? Send us your comments.



If we truly believe we are dealing with a behavioral healthcare issue when we address substance use disorders, then why would we ever make the clinically relevant behavior illegal? We don't legislate against chocolate cake in order to protect diabetics. We don't legislate against cats and dogs to protect asthmatics who might be allergic to them! The harms caused by the criminal justice arm of the War on Drugs have been well documented, and countries like Portugal, that have recognized that these costs are more onerous than the health problem they are designed to address, are to be applauded. If we care about the poor, the disenfranchised and people of color who disproportionately feel the impact of our criminal justice approach, then we will wake up and face the reality that we already saw in the early 20th century--criminalizing drugs does not stop those who wish to use them from obtaining and using them. It's time to bring our thinking into the 21st century!

People use substances for reasons. They can help us relax, be creative, focus, sleep, and improve mood. Most people use substances without causing significant harm to themselves or others. However, some people use them in ways that cause harms ranging from minor to fatal.

Current prohibition-based drug policies that criminalize substance use contribute to, and can even cause, harms. Sometimes these harms are worse than the drugs themselves, by interfering with people’s human rights as well as public health and individual and family safety.

We know that problematic substance use is a complex interaction of psychological, biological and sociocultural variables. Drug policy that criminalizes substance use, is prohibition-based, informs the cultural narrative that unjustly blames, stigmatizes, and disempowers individuals and families.

As addiction professionals, we should be working to empower our clients and families, not being part of the problem.

I am in support of decriminalizing the use and possession if the monies saved from the current expense of incarceration would be put forth toward treatment for those wanting help with their addictions. Along with that, I also believe that we would need continued laws against the manufacturing and sales. I have some concerns about legalization. I believe that those who are struggling with addiction will unfairly providing funding for public services for all through revenues generated and that the income generated would not go toward treatment services first and foremost for the struggling addict.

The original sin of the nascent addiction treatment field was to align with the criminal justice system. The two sectors have been joined at the hip for as long as I can remember. This has been a deal with the devil.

This "deal"  brought legitimacy and clients, but also baggage that we have yet to shed. Unfortunately, the drug policy views of many who work in treatment still track closely with reflexive drug war thinking.



Gary Enos


Gary Enos

Gary A. Enos has been the editor of Addiction Professional since its inception. He also...

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