In recent years there has been a sea change in the way Americans view the use of marijuana. As more and more medical uses for the cannabis plant are developed and the stigma of pot use decreases, proponents have called for legalizing it. Several states, in fact, have recently legalized marijuana for recreational use, and even more have laws allowing medicinal uses of pot.
I have mixed feelings about the growing acceptance of this mind-altering substance. I support the ability of patients to use marijuana to ease pain or for other legitimate medical uses, and I believe the sale and possession of the drug should be decriminalized. Far too many people are rotting away in prison for minor drug offenses, creating a financial drain on the state and unfairly burdening individuals with lifelong criminal records.
But I do think we should move with caution on out-and-out legalization of weed. For one thing, today’s marijuana is much more potent than the stuff my contemporaries were smoking on the quad at college in the 1970s. This makes it far more incapacitating than partakers might expect. It’s also hard to determine at what level in the bloodstream pot causes sufficient impairment to make such functions as driving unsafe. Because THC can stay in the bloodstream for long periods of time, testing its levels on drivers is unreliable. It’s true that there are far more drunk driving fatalities than ones involving pot. But this may be due in part to the fact that alcohol is legal and widely available while marijuana is not.
Also due to its illegal status, there is not enough knowledge of how the hundreds of other compounds in marijuana affect our health. I have been told by a clinical psychologist that regular use of pot can decrease motivation. Obviously, there’s a reason for the stoner stereotype. Along with decreased motivation, pot use can cause anxiety and paranoia in some users. This should concern parents of teenagers in particular. Once marijuana becomes legal, it will become easier for underage users to obtain, much in the same way that teens find easy access to alcohol.
The common argument for legalizing marijuana is that it is nowhere near as dangerous or detrimental as alcohol. I am not sure we can make such a case without more study and experience with widespread use of the drug. For example, the state of Colorado has seen an increase in the number of marijuana-related emergency room visits since the drug became legal. Besides, the fact that alcohol use is fraught with dangers and health issues is no reason to add another potentially harmful substance to our list of legal drugs.
I would like to see marijuana considered a controlled substance available only with a prescription from a physician. To me that is the best way to balance general safety with the needs of patients for whom pot is beneficial.
When it comes to legalizing pot, our motto should be: Proceed with caution.