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The Legalization Juggernaut

Why won’t more political leaders speak out on marijuana?

May 5, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 32 • By CHRISTOPHER BEACH and WILLIAM BENNETT
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Hence the pot-tarts and marijuana-infused sodas, brownies, cookies, and pasta sauces that already line the shelves of Colorado’s pot shops. Billboards advertising marijuana dot Denver freeways and feature cartoon characters; they’re obviously aimed at young people. 

The authors also found that “more-than-weekly users account for more than 90 percent of marijuana demand.” In other words, legalization enables an industry that thrives on maximizing addiction. 

Furthermore, the medical science is clear: Marijuana use has deleterious effects on health and behavior, especially among the young. 

Marijuana today is far more potent than it was in the 1960s and ’70s. This is not your parents’ or grandparents’ pot. “Over just the past fifteen years, potency levels measured in U.S. seizures have more than doubled,” Marijuana Legalization reports. The University of Mississippi Potency Monitoring Project found that the average potency of all cannabis seized by state and federal law enforcement increased from 3.4 percent in 1993 to about 8.8 percent in 2008. By most estimates, the average potency today is 13 or 14 percent. 

The more potent the drug the more dangerous its effects. Marijuana has already been linked to two deaths in Colorado: a 19-year-old college student who jumped to his death from a Denver hotel room after eating six times the recommended amount of a pot cookie and a man who allegedly shot and killed his wife after eating marijuana candy and hallucinating.

It seems that the American Medical Association was right when it came out with a long report opposing legalization in 2013. Among its most damning findings was: “Heavy cannabis use in adolescence causes persistent impairments in neurocognitive performance and IQ, and use is associated with increased rates of anxiety, mood, and psychotic thought disorders.”

And now even casual pot smoking has been linked to harmful brain abnormalities. An important new study by researchers at Northwestern University to be published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that young adults who smoked pot only once or twice a week still showed significant abnormalities in the part of the brain that deals with memory and motivation.

And the consequences of marijuana use are not restricted to individual users. Over the last 10 years, fatal car accidents involving people who were stoned have tripled, according to a report in the American Journal of Epidemiology

Marijuana, of course, is a gateway drug. Even the authors of Marijuana Legalization admit that “kids who use marijuana—particularly those who start marijuana use at a young age—are statistically much more likely to go on to use other drugs than their peers who do not use marijuana.” 

Rather than address these problems, many supporters of marijuana change the terms of debate. But the claims that if we legalize pot we can reap economic benefits from taxation and regulation, right wrongs in the criminal justice system, and undercut the criminal cartels are mostly false. 

It doesn’t seem to be the case that legalization will produce a financial windfall. Early revenue estimates from Colorado’s own legislative economists have already been revised downward. In any case, a few more dollars for state governments to spend pale beside the societal costs of wasted lives, incapacitated employees, doped-up students, and stoned parents neglecting life and family responsibilities. 

Neither is it true that legalizing pot will rid us of the big crime syndicates. When asked how much drug-related crime, violence, and corruption marijuana legalization would eliminate, the authors of Marijuana Legalization admit, “Not much.” To date, police in Colorado report that the black market is alive and well. With taxes on legal pot running 25 percent, cartels can provide cheaper, untaxed weed, and consumers will buy it.

Finally, proponents of legalization claim that pot smokers (particularly young black males) are crowding our prisons. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The U.S. criminal justice system is the single largest referral source for drug treatment programs. What’s more, those serving time for marijuana possession alone account for less than 1 percent of the state and federal prison population, and most of these prisoners are drug dealers who pleaded guilty to possession in exchange for a lesser sentence. 

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