At Issue: Changing Marijuana Attitudes and Laws

Call it what you will–cannabis, grass, pot, Mary Jane, weed, or any other of its dozen nicknames-marijuana is making headlines these days and not just because its use by our kids is said to be outpacing their use of alcohol.Back in 1973, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize its use, but it was not until 1996 that California became the first in the nation to allow doctor-recommended medical marijuana use. Now fast forward to 2012 when voters made Washington the first to legalize its recreational use as of December 6th. Folks in Colorado voted similarly, with Governor John Hickenlooper signing Amendment 64 into law on December 10th.In those states, as a result, adults 21 and older are able to possess an ounce of weed, made available only in state-licensed stores. Coloradans, though, will also be allowed to grow up to six plants. Public consumption, however, remains illegal.Meanwhile, Rhode Island and Maine are apparently soon to follow down this same path, while thirteen states now allow regulated medical marijuana use. In addition, another 17 and D.C. now recognize its medicinal value but offer no protection from federal prosecution. You see, pot is still illegal under federal law-at least for now-causing Governor Hickenlooper to say, “Don’t break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly.”And speaking of the government, a recent Gallop Poll found that 64% of those surveyed are against the federal government moving to enforce its anti-marijuana laws in states where recreational use is legal-for now just Washington and Colorado. In 2005, about 33% favored legalization; in 1969, just 12% did.Meanwhile, that same poll found that 60% of 18- to 29-year-olds favor legalization, with 48% of those 30 to 64 doing so, along with 36% of those 65 and older.The political picture is note-worthy, too, with just 33% of Republicans favoring legalization, 50% of Independents, and 61% of Democrats.So, is this progress or have we opened a Pandora’s Box, further complicating the work of parents, schools, employers, and law enforcement and further endangering public safety. You decide, keeping the facts in mind.First off, the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that, in 2011, 7.2% of 8th graders, 17.6% of 10th graders, and 22.6% of 12th graders had used marijuana in the past month; moreover, 6.6% of 12th graders used it every day.And while not necessarily a proven “gateway drug” to harder usage, researchers have found that the earlier you start smoking weed, the likelier you are to become dependent on it and/or other drugs later on.Then there are these sobering statistics:
Marijuana smoke contains 50% to 70% more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke.
Marijuana is the most common illegal drug.
About 100 million Americans have admitted trying it at least once.
Among 12- to 17-year olds, 10.1% of boys and 9.7% of girls smoke pot.
Early use can negatively affect the brain, weakening verbal and communication skills, diminishing the ability to learn, and shortening attention span.
Those 18 and older who first used marijuana before turning 12 were twice as likely to experience serious mental illness as those who started later.
Marijuana is addictive. About one in six who start smoking it as teens get hooked as do between 25% and 50% of daily users.
About 30% of those arrested for marijuana violations were under 19.
About 14% of auto accident deaths are marijuana-use related.
19% of teen drivers report having driven under the influence of marijuana.
So yes, while proponents of legalization will continue to remind you of the drug war’s failure and its enormous cost-about $10 billion on marijuana prohibitions annually and the arrest of more than 853,000 every year-take heed and be careful what you wish for, what you vote for. Once open, there is no closing Pandora’s Box.