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Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker said the records released Wednesday are being "over-hyped" by his critics.

While two states have implemented policies that fully legalize marijuana and a Wisconsin lawmaker recently introduced legislation to decriminalize the drug here, Gov. Scott Walker this week voiced support for the adage that marijuana use is a dangerous “gateway” to riskier substances, such as heroin and methamphetamine.

After addressing a number of drug-related issues at a meeting of the Badger State Sheriffs Association at the Madison Concourse Hotel on Tuesday, Walker told reporters sheriffs he had spoken with urged him to not support any policy that would “open up the door to marijuana use legally in the state of Wisconsin.”

“They said when they talked about heroin and meth and other issues that they were still very concerned that (marijuana) was a gateway drug,” he said.

He further rejected comparisons between pot and booze, suggesting that people can enjoy themselves responsibly over beers in a way that they can’t by sharing a joint.

“If I’m at a wedding reception here and somebody has a drink or two, most people wouldn’t say they’re wasted,” he said. “Most folks with marijuana wouldn’t be sitting around a wedding reception smoking marijuana.”

“Now there are people who abuse (alcohol), no doubt about it, but I think it’s a big jump between someone having a beer and smoking marijuana,” he added.

Walker’s words reflect the conventional wisdom that has guided federal and state drug policy ever since Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs more than 40 years ago. Recent polls, however, indicate that the public is increasingly skeptical of claims that marijuana is a significant threat to public safety, and even President Barack Obama recently said that he did not believe pot was more dangerous than alcohol.

Richard Brown, a UW-Madison medical professor who specializes in substance abuse, does not believe that pot-smoking is more dangerous than drinking and says the theory that weed is a “gateway” to more perilous poison has been discredited.

However, Brown agrees that marijuana should remain illegal. Simply put, he believes legalizing the substance would increase usage, amplifying issues of abuse and addiction.

So why not ban alcohol?

“We know that prohibition did not work and cannot work because of the way our culture has developed (around alcohol),” he said.

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Jack Craver is the Capital Times political reporter, focusing on elections, candidates and campaign finance.