A VIEW FROM THE FRONT LINES OF LEGALIZATION
|| By ALLISON HOWARD || The year was 1987 and America’s “War on Drugs” was in full swing. Anyone who had a television set (and very few didn’t) was sure to have seen the “This is Your Brain on Drugs” public service announcement more times than they cared to count.
Today the messaging is vastly different.
Living in Colorado, one of the first things people ask me about is the marijuana culture here. Is everyone stoned? Are there pot shops on every street corner? No. But pot has definitely become a significant part of the Colorado culture.
Green crosses can be seen in most towns indicating a place to buy recreational or medicinal marijuana products. Meanwhile as I sit in my apartment, I frequently pick up the uniquely identifiable odor of marijuana seeping through my air conditioning system.
Not being a proponent of drug use in general, I find this irritating – but I also know marijuana is a legitimate treatment for many who have run out of other medical options.
In studies published by Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, marijuana has been attributed to many positive physical effects including: Controlling epileptic seizures and inflammatory bowel disease, slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and, in some cases, inhibiting the growth of cancer. In addition, for those struggling with cancer and other ailments, marijuana has long been used to promote appetite and reduce pain. All of these things are wonderful medicinal uses of this drug.
However, these are specific uses – and have specific usage guidelines to produce the desired effects just like any other prescribed medication.
But what about recreational use? Do the societal drawbacks outweigh the perceived benefits?
Proponents of legalization argue that it reduces or eliminates the black market for marijuana. This is definitely a compelling argument, but the desire for low cost and convenience has kept the black market here in Colorado alive and well.
As discussed in an article in The Atlantic, drug “resellers” will always be able to provide marijuana at lower costs than the legalized shops. Additionally, it is virtually impossible to identify and eliminate all of the individuals who grow marijuana and sell it on the side. These dealers – large and small – will always exist.
Let’s move on to the arguments about the drug use itself.
Proponents of legalized marijuana claim the drug is not addictive – that it is 100 percent natural and has no known significant side effects, making it safer to consume than alcohol. Sure, you get red eyes, “the munchies,” memory loss and you tend to be lazier than you were before – but overall it’s better than dying of liver failure or lung cancer, right?
Maybe not. Let’s start with the idea that marijuana is non-addictive. The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicates that in 2014 – the year marijuana was legalized in Colorado and Washington State – more than four million individuals abused or were addicted to marijuana. While this is only a quarter of the number of individuals who reported dependence upon or addiction to alcohol, it is important to remember that a majority of the nation still lists marijuana as an illegal drug and therefore, these figures are likely inaccurate.
Others argue that marijuana is not a hallucinogenic drug and therefore no worse than a glass or wine or can of beer. Unfortunately for these proponents, there are cases that fly in the face of this contention. Very soon after legalization in Colorado, for example, an otherwise unassuming husband and father ingested marijuana from a THC-infused candy. He then began hallucinating and fatally shot his wife. Pot proponents argue the man’s THC level was too low for any hallucination to have occurred, but as this situation proved every drug trip is unique and can have wildly (often dangerously) unpredictable results.
Strictly speaking, marijuana does not cause the same level of hallucinations seen in other drugs – although increased THC levels in the marijuana being distributed today increases the likelihood of hallucinations, extreme anxiety and paranoia. And while there is a very clear science to marijuana growth and cultivation, it is impossible to definitively predict the response a given individual will have each time they use the drug (or any other drug, for that matter). Also, the increased availability of candy and other edibles laced with THC makes this even more challenging.
Other pot proponents argue smoking marijuana is healthier than cigarettes. While marijuana has not yet been linked to lung cancer, the American Lung Association states clearly that smoking of marijuana is harmful to the lungs. Period.
Regardless of whether the smoke is coming from a cigarette or a marijuana pipe, joint or blunt, “[S]moke from marijuana combustion has been shown to contain many of the same toxins, irritants and carcinogens as tobacco smoke. ”
It’s also worth noting those who smoke marijuana inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in their lungs longer in order to obtain the desired “high,” thus elevating their exposure to these toxic carcinogens.
If all of these things are true, why is marijuana on track to be legalized in additional states? Why is it becoming increasingly acceptable across the board?
I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because our society is at once angry about the current state of affairs – but too beaten down to actually do what it takes to make a change. Or maybe it’s because we have created a culture where our younger generations are so used to being handed everything. They don’t understand what it means to deal with the “damage” done by failure. So when they actually do fail at something (a job, a relationship, a game) they are incapable of functioning and turn to drugs to make their reality more bearable.
Whatever the reason, for Colorado and the many other states now looking to legalize, it all comes down to one thing: Money.
The State of Colorado made over $135 million in tax revenues from the legalized sale of marijuana in 2015. While that’s lower than projected, it is still a tidy sum – meaning it is unlikely legalization will be overturned any time in the near future.
Even increases in drug overdoses by adults and children – and significant increases in the numbers of automobile accidents related to marijuana use – do not speak louder than the almighty dollar.
The bottom line is this: Legalized marijuana is not the financial savior it was promoted as – but for those wanting to find that ever elusive “perfect high,” it’s not going away anytime soon either.
Allison Howard is a freelance writer born and raised in Colorado (where she thought she didn’t fit in). She diverted to South Carolina (where she definitely didn’t fit in) and recently returned home to Colorado to write about it all – finding she fits in wherever she wants to.