Source: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
Author: Dr. Paul M. Worrell
Published: October 30, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Anchorage Daily News
Contact: [email protected]
Proponents of Ballot Measure 2 contend that marijuana is innocuous enough that it shouldn't be the government's business if adults want to smoke it. They say prohibition wastes money and doesn't work, and they argue that legalizing and regulating the drug will get rid of the black market. This will protect kids from drug dealers and keep otherwise law-abiding adults out of jail, they say.
One of these arguments for legalizing marijuana, a powerful psychotropic drug, is that it is less addictive than alcohol or nicotine, and certainly not as dangerous as cocaine and heroin. It's not "as bad" as tobacco or alcohol, so why ban pot use when these other substances are legal to use (and abuse)?
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. The devastating effects of alcohol-related injury and violence are widely known in Alaska communities, where many villages have indeed banned alcohol use and sales. To boast that marijuana is the "lesser of evils" in terms of public health consequences is not a convincing argument for legalizing its use.
Because, like tobacco and alcohol, marijuana is not a benign drug. Marijuana use can lead to poor motivation syndrome and increased rates of schizophrenia and depression. Its use can lead to lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema and even lung cancer.
For children and adolescents, whose brains are still developing, the use of psychoactive drugs is especially worrisome. Legalizing another addictive substance will increase the supply available to adolescents. It also sends the message that pot smoking is condoned.
In addition, marijuana is a gateway drug. Physicians treat thousands of patients for illnesses related to drug abuse. Almost all say their drug use started with pot smoking. The use of marijuana needs to be discouraged to protect individual and community health, not encouraged by legalizing the production, use, exchange and sale of the drug.
Marijuana is already the most widely used illicit drug among youths in Alaska, with nearly 50 percent of high school students surveyed in 2003 reporting they used marijuana at least once. Proposition 2 not only allows the possession of this drug, but also its distribution and sale. To say the drug is already popular does not validate its use, or the alarming potential for abuse of even more powerful drugs. The "not as bad as" argument simply isn't convincing.
Do we really believe opening the door to commercial enterprise will decrease marijuana use among children and adolescents? Are we prepared for the increased public health risks that legalization will pose? Are we willing to go down the same road we traveled with alcohol and tobacco, accepting yet another burden on public health and safety?
The Alaska State Medical Association says, "NO" to these questions, and to Ballot Measure 2. There is no good reason for decriminalizing marijuana. It remains an illegal substance at the federal level and should remain the controlled substance it is at the state level.
Dr. Paul M. Worrell is president of the Alaska State Medical Association.
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