The substance abuse prevention community is alarmed about recent successes to legalize marijuana.
A few states had previously passed laws permitting the medical use of marijuana, but at the last election two states (Washington and Colorado) legalized the RECREATIONAL use.
This was a controversial step since possession of the drug remains in violation of federal law, and it remains to be seen how this conflict in regulation is resolved. The larger question is whether legalization is the right thing to do, and the response from the drug prevention community is a resounding no.
Substance abuse is a complex issue and the proponents of legalization seem sincere. They cite several compelling reasons why legalization is a better path. The main points are keeping marijuana users out of jails, privacy rights, the “failed” war on drugs and reducing the power of criminal drug cartels. Lately they have added taxation of legal marijuana as a solution to state budget challenges.
However, upon close inspection their arguments fail. First, people in possession of marijuana are not jailed. This stopped decades ago. Here in Granbury, for example, minors in possession may be eligible to have their sentences adjudicated by their peers at the Teen Court. Only significant traffickers are subject to jail sentences. The privacy right issue is also compelling on the surface, but with respect to drug use, what occurs in the home rarely stays at home. Use by teenagers is on the rise after many years of decline, and greater accessibility will exacerbate the problem.
A recent study on drugged driving by the National Transportation Safety Administration found that 16 percent of sampled nighttime drivers were positive for drugs and alcohol, and one in eight high school seniors reported driving under the influence of marijuana in the two weeks prior to that survey.
Proponents also cite the criminal drug activity south of our border and the “failed” war on drugs. In fact the war on drugs has not failed. Over the last three decades the rate of drug use in the U.S. has dropped by one-third. Since 2006 meth use has been cut in half and cocaine by 40 percent.
While the criminal activity in Mexico is disturbing, there is no evidence that legalization of marijuana will have any impact. The best way to defeat the drug cartels is for Americans to stop buying illegal drugs.
HEARD THAT STORY BEFORE
Lastly, proponents show how taxation of legal marijuana will bring needed funds to help with state education. Where have we heard that before? Did the lottery save education in Texas? To meet the sales figures that one state’s proponents provided would require a 40 percent increase in the use of marijuana. Where do you suppose that will come from? The Hood County Substance Abuse Council is concerned about all drug issues, but our focus is on keeping drugs from our youth. There are clear dangers with marijuana. Research has shown that marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance and cognitive impairment. This is especially troubling since one in 11 people who ever used marijuana will become dependent on it; this rises to one in six when use begins in adolescence. In 2009, 6.1 percent of high school seniors reported daily use.
Proponents of medical marijuana perpetuate the myth that marijuana use is harmless, resulting in confusing messages that are clearly noticed by our youth. Real medical use of marijuana consists of orally administered extracts of the plant (Dronabinol and Nabilone). Smoking marijuana is an inefficient and harmful method for drug delivery, and the FDA has not found smoked marijuana to be either safe or effective medicine for any condition. No major medical association has come out in favor of smoked marijuana for widespread medical use.
Whatever your position is on the use of marijuana, whether you support legalization or not – let’s agree on one thing. We don’t want more stoned teenagers. They are an incredible danger to themselves and others.
The latest Texas A&M survey of Granbury High School seniors showed that one in five had tried marijuana, and one-third said it was somewhat or very easy to obtain. Legalization of marijuana makes it more accessible, and keeping it out of the hands of our children will be an insurmountable task.
The Hood County Substance Abuse Council (HCSAC) is dedicated to the prevention of substance abuse, is a recipient of a Drug Free Communities federal grant and is affiliated with the United Way of Hood County.
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