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Considering the potential consequences of marijuana legalization

by Susannah Kopecky, published

Do you think California has reached the point where it’s not only OK to turn a blind eye to drug use, but drug use should be legalized? It’s come to that point:  marijuana may soon be considered legal in California. According to the Los Angeles Times, nearly 700,000 registered voters threw their support behind an initiative to make the possession of marijuana legal. According to state law, just under 434,000 registered voters must sign a petition before it can be sent to the California Secretary of State’s office to be certified. Once a measure is certified, it is eligible to appear on a state election ballot. If the secretary can successfully certify that well over 400,000 individuals, who are registered voters, did in fact lend their name to the cause, the plan to take the stigma out of marijuana possession may appear on a ballot near you, come November 2010.

All California hippie jokes aside, the push to legalize marijuana statewide has been well organized and well-funded. One major supporter of the pro-marijuana initiative, Richard Lee, has reportedly backed the movement to the tune of $1 million. Lee, who works in the Bay Area, is unabashedly pro-marijuana growth and consumption, and is also the president of Oaksterdam University (not an accredited school). Known for his public outspokenness on medical marijuana use, he compared the ban on mainstream marijuana use to the failed period in which alcohol was outlawed in the United States, known as Prohibition. Lee told the New York Times that “current laws aren't working. We should have learned from alcohol prohibition.”

According to the American Council for Drug Education, marijuana is a stimulant with properties of a depressant. According to the ACDE, “marijuana use reduces learning ability” and can limit one’s “capacity to absorb and retain information.” The council also notes that impaired perception and hallucinations are some well-known side effects of using the drug. In addition, health risks associated with chronic marijuana use include bronchitis, asthma and emphysema. Lungs and airways can be damaged by frequent use of the drug. The council further notes that “there is just as much exposure to cancer-causing chemicals from smoking one marijuana joint as smoking five tobacco cigarettes. And there is evidence that marijuana may limit the ability of the immune system to fight infection and disease.”

Some supporters of the legalization of marijuana argue that by legalizing the drug, the state can save money on costs incurred by law enforcement and can raise a significant amount of revenue, to the tune of at least $1 billion. Does anyone remember cigarettes? Those legal cancer sticks which are frowned upon but certainly not illegal?  According to the Tax Policy Center, in 2004, California raised $1,078,536,000 in revenues from tobacco taxes. And yet, somehow, supporters of marijuana legalization counter that legalizing marijuana will bring in at least that much revenue to the state. In October 2009, the California branch of the medical marijuana advocacy group NORML, estimated that legalization of the drug could ultimately have a “total economic impact of $12-$18 billion” in revenue toward the state.

While the state is in just bad enough shape to possibly consider any money-making measure, state leaders should think twice before agreeing to support the sale of a drug which has yet to be extensively researched, and has been proven beyond a doubt to have a mind-altering effect on users. By allowing those 21 years of age and older to use the drug, could the state, by extension, also condone (and perhaps become responsible for) any harmful actions perpetrated by users?  If a user crashed his car on the highway, does the state condone his behavior by legalizing the substance?

If state lawmakers are serious about investigating the prospect of legalizing this mind-altering drug, they should at least also look into creating laws to enact serious penalties against those who abuse such drugs and harm others while in their drug-induced states.

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