You can legally smoke, vape, ingest, or dab your marijuana now in Oregon, as you can in three other states and the District of Columbia. Next year, ballot initiatives will be voted on in at least six more states. Honestly, I’m conflicted about the issue.
The existing system of prohibition is clearly broken. Too many lives and families shattered by unnecessary arrests. Courts overwhelmed. Police resources taken from more vital assignments. Thousands of people incarcerated unnecessarily, disproportionally people of color. It’s not hard to argue that this horrendous system has been a failure and needs to change.
Friends passing a joint after dinner seems like what Mother Nature made the stuff for. An evening of relaxation after work. I get that. No argument from me. Let’s skip for now the medical marijuana discussion and focus on the legalization of recreational pot use.
It’s what’s on the other side of that smoky haze that concerns me. You can take your statistics from either side of the aisle. I won’t try to out-data those who are certain in their viewpoint.
Since Colorado has the longest history with legal pot use, it’s helpful to have a look at how the new laws have affected the state. Colorado reported $60 million in its coffers from pot sales this year. Two pro-legalization entities, The Mint Press News and The Drug Policy Alliance, are touting lower crime rates, improved economics, and a healthier commercial real estate market. What could be bad?
The government has a task force that deals with drug trafficking in the Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming area. An August 2014 report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area may offer some indication of the effects on impaired driving, juvenile and adult marijuana usage, hospitalizations, and crime for Colorado as those statistics are broken out. The numbers are concerning. You can read the whole report here. http://bit.ly/1GaiL8w
So here’s where my real worry resides. It’s not the recreational, well-functioning adult enjoying his after-work hit. It’s the teenager with a wavering commitment to school lighting up before getting on the bus. The children that grow up watching their parents get high regularly. The anxious, young self-medicators that have easier access.
Colorado does not seem to be doing a good job of keeping pot out of the hands of kids. Marijuana-related exposures for kids 1-5 increased 268% for the time periods studied. Drug-related school suspensions increased 32%. Hospitalizations are up sharply particularly from edibles. Overall usage is up.
I went to high school and college in the seventies. We all dabbled. Not all of us came out the other side and became productive citizens. The pot back then was dishwater compared to today’s stuff. THC potency has risen from an average of 3.96 percent in 1995 to an average of 12.33 percent in 2013. A recent NBC report indicates levels are testing at closer to 20%. http://nbcnews.to/1Ftgkjm
There are other discouraging indicators. Pot involved traffic fatalities have doubled. Homelessness has shot up. For years, we heard that legalizing pot would take the air out of the illegal drug trade. It appears, however, that the black market in Colorado is still alive and well. See Gabe Silverman’s article for the Washington Post. http://wapo.st/1WBAEor. Couple that with decades of persuasion about the effects of smoking on our lungs, and now it’s okay?
The incubators are in place. Colorado and Oregon and the other early adaptor states that have already legalized marijuana provide an opportunity to see its effect on drug addiction, workplace accidents, and school achievement. I fear that states will jump on the money grab they perceive waiting for them without adequately preparing for the social costs that are sure to come. The potential financial windfall must seem like candy to the politicians who believe they can balance the budget on marijuana revenue. But those dollars were not printed in the basement. They were spent on pot instead of movie tickets or shoes.
This is not your father’s pot. Or maybe it is, because what’s legal for adults becomes permissive to teenagers. Much of the heroin crisis of today is attributed to the easy availability of prescription opioids in our medicine cabinets and the relativity cheaper cost of a heroin high. So, before you throw the pot is not a gateway drug at me, I’m saying that it isn’t a stretch of imagination to think that kids raised with the idea that getting high is not harmful will be more inclined to do so in one way or another. Surveys taken in Colorado already support this.
So, I’m concerned. If history is any guide, dollars for drug prevention and mental health will shrink as sticky-fingered politicians divert funds to their own projects. I’m not naive. We cannot stuff this smoke back in the bottle. I still believe that the prosecution of recreational pot use is harmful to society. I hope that when the newness of legalization wears off, it will settle into the fabric of our culture without explosive results. But the consequences we may face down the road will not come as a surprise. We know where the pitfalls are if we choose to see them. I just hope we can learn to enjoy our privileges and freedoms without significant harm to the next generation.
I have mixed feelings about this issue and I doubt I’m the only one. I have, as the newly departed Yogi Bera said, come to the fork in the road, and I have taken it.