Thomas Elias: Marijuana harm ignored in push for legalization
Four potential ballot initiatives completely legalizing marijuana are in the works for California’s next general election, with pot advocates yet to choose the variation that will get their concerted push.
But one thing for sure: Whichever one they send out for signature gathering will say nothing about the detrimental effects of the mild-altering weed, well known a proven demotivating factor for heavy users.
The eventual pot legalization initiative (its official name is yet to be determined) will likely tax pot producers and dealers just like other businesses. And it will contain rules against anyone under 21 obtaining it, like measures adopted in Colorado and Washington.
There will also be no nonsense about doctors’ recommendations, now required for medical marijuana use under Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. Those recommendations, often faked, now facilitate cannabis use for plenty of folks with no discernible medical problem. This, of course, does not change the fact marijuana has helped plenty of cancer patients and others who need their pain alleviated, as well as helping vision problems and other ailments marijuana often eases.
Essentially, all this means there is no longer much, if any, stigma attached to using marijuana. Entrepreneurs all over California are already gearing up to market everything from bongs to cannabis-laced fudge the moment legalization arrives.
But as acceptance of marijuana has increased, both nationally and in California, the dangers also have risen. A 2014 study in the medical journal Current Addiction Reports (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs40429-014-0019-6) found that using pot only once a week can lead to cognitive decline, lower IQ and memory problems. Other studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine and other peer-reviewed medical magazines report a link between recreational pot use and brain abnormalities in young adults. Some law enforcement officials report more serious problems, too.
Not to worry, say legalization advocates, because the age limit will keep marijuana away from teenagers. The identical rule, of course, applies to alcohol, and how successful is that in preventing teenage and college drinking?
Acceptance of pot is so widespread that two of California’s most conservative Republican congressmen, Tom McClintock of Roseville and Dana Rohrabacher of Orange County, along with liberal Democrat Sam Farr of Monterey County, are now pushing to prevent any federal interference with legalizing the weed.
The GOP dominated House of Representatives passed the so-called Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment earlier this year on a non-partisan vote, seeking to prevent the federal Justice Department from stopping legalization anywhere. And a McClintock-sponsored amendment that barely failed in the House would have forbidden federal prosecution of pot dealers and users anyplace where state laws allow recreational marijuana.
All this ignores the sometimes fatal effects of pot use reported in a new study from the Arizona Department of Health Services. Examining all deaths of Arizona children under age 18, the department concluded 128 fatalities in 2014 resulted from substance abuse. Marijuana was the most prevalent substance associated with child deaths, linked to 62, far more than alcohol or methamphetamine. This, when just 7.5 percent of Arizonans use marijuana regularly, compared with 52 percent who use alcohol. So there’s little doubt pot is a more serious problem for youngsters who use it than beer or liquor.
Translate the Arizona numbers to California, six times as large but with no similar tracking of teenage deaths, and the likelihood is that more than 300 youthful fatalities here were tied to pot use last year.
Says Sheila Polk, county attorney for Yavapai County, Ariz., northwest of Phoenix, “Legalizing an addictive drug that is linked to … increased psychosis and suicidal ideas, lowered IQ, memory loss, impaired learning and academic failure means more damaged lives and lost opportunities for our youth. It’s unconscionable to experiment this way.”
Wrote Republican William Bennett, the nation’s first drug czar and a former secretary of education, “Overseeing or encouraging more marijuana use is just about the last thing a government trying to elevate (living conditions) would do. At stake is the safety of our youth.”
Sadly, it’s unlikely voters will hear anything much like this when the drumbeat for legalization begins in earnest late next year.
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