Legalizing marijuana is making people laugh. “Yesterday, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed an amendment that officially legalized marijuana in the state. Stoners took a moment to thank Governor Hickenlooper — then spent a few hours just saying the word ‘Hickenlooper,’ ” joked Jimmy Fallon.
The jokes increase as the drug appears to go mainstream. But should it?
Floridians may see medicinal marijuana on the November ballot. Some studies show that marijuana has been beneficial in the treatment of cancer and AIDS, glaucoma, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. Under medical supervision these treatments can help, but given Florida’s experience with pill mills, one wonders how long it would take for its abuse. Most voters may not care.
A CNN poll shows that 55 percent of Americans think that marijuana should be legalized, and many shrug off teenagers’ experimentation with pot because they view it as a rite of passage. Many moms and dads may have smoked it, too. Today’s weed, however, is not the same as that of 40 years ago, far from it.
Marijuana’s potency has increased 175 percent between 1996 and 2008. In 2010, 1 million people were treated for dependency issues related to smoking pot.
According to a study by Ana Moreno of the Family Recovery Center, marijuana is the second most abused substance behind alcohol because, like alcohol users, people who smoke it develop a tolerance that requires increased use to achieve the high.
Its abuse is harder to spot because a person’s decline is more gradual than with other drugs.
Moreno says she finds it harder to treat those addicted to pot than to harder drugs because there is more denial and resistance to treatment.
“By the time it is recognized as a problem it has been years in abuse. The typical marijuana users who come to treatment have had personality changes usually observed by their family and have been doing poorly in school or college or are not launching into life,” says Moreno.
Marijuana then can be as addictive as cigarettes and alcohol, although not for everyone. Many ignore that marijuana, like tobacco, has a mixture of toxic gases and tiny particles that can harm the lungs.
More important, a New Zealand study found that prolonged use of marijuana can have damaging long-term effects on the teenage brain. Researchers who ran tests on young people before and after long-term use found that its prolonged use led to cognitive impairment. Not only did it lower the IQ, it resulted in a continuing mental decline even after use of the drug discontinued. Cannabis users had significantly more problems with memory, concentration and coordination — in short, anything and everything that leads to success in school.
It is no wonder that the American Medical Association opposes the legalization of pot, asserting that, “Cannabis is a dangerous drug and, as such, is a public health concern.” This does not seem to bother some cash-strapped states that look to legalize pot as a new revenue source that can be taxed. It could be a huge business. According to the National Cannabis Industry Association, it could be a $10-billion industry in five years.
A glaring problem is that it may be both legal and illegal. Although a growing number of states are legalizing pot for medicinal or recreational use, under federal law it is illegal. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is looking the other way, but that does not make it legal. A new administration in 2016 that favors drug enforcement could strike down state laws.
This is going to be a legal and moral issue political candidates won’t be able to dodge.
While no one is advocating for the legalization of pot for use by minors, it is disingenuous to think that they will have less access to it after it is legal. And grownups are not helping.
“At this point in history, Americans are more medicated, obese, in debt and addicted than any previous generations,” says Moreno, who fears that turning to quick fixes to handle our problems will keep children from developing appropriate coping skills to meet life’s challenges.
She is right.
It is probably more popular to approve the legalization of marijuana, but it is wrong. It is a mood- and mind-altering drug that is addictive. Users suffer withdrawal. Legalizing it just says we can’t deal with it smartly. That is not true. Good government wants to promote healthy and productive societies. Legalizing marijuana encourages just the opposite.