By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — The push for legalized marijuana — first for medicinal use and then for anyone who cares to partake — is gaining momentum across the United States with a recent vote in New Jersey and proposed changes in California. Not surprisingly, a study released late last year shows a rising number of teens using the drug, even as cigarette use among high school students declines.
“These latest events in this disturbing trend are all the more reason that North Carolinians should take a stand against marijuana use,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “This issue is not about providing people with medicine they need. The push for medicinal use is step one in the strategic push for full legalization.”
Lawmakers in New Jersey voted earlier this month to allow patients with severe illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis to smoke marijuana. Those in California, where the drug was approved for medicinal use some 14 years ago, are eyeing a plan to legalize it for everyone 21 and over. The Public Safety Committee of the California Assembly voted 4-3 this week for AB 390 which would remove all legal penalties for growing, using or distributing marijuana and instead call for a $50 tax on each ounce sold. Supporters claim it would bring in $1.3 billion a year in taxes and fees but, as is often the case, aren’t discussing health and societal repercussions of widespread drug abuse.
“They’re promoting it saying that if we legalize it, it will free up the police force to concentrate on other things and not marijuana. If that were the case, you would think all the police would be in favor of it, but the vast majority of police, sheriffs, district attorneys and drug prevention professionals don’t want to see recreational marijuana approved,” said the Rev. James Butler, executive director of the California Council on Alcohol Problems. “They know that they’ll just have more treatment issues and more crime to deal with.”
In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, law enforcement officials were among many who spoke out against AB 390 in last week’s committee meeting, warning that tax revenue would not compensate for the havoc marijuana wreaks on users and their communities.
“The mere consideration of an attempt to trade human misery for tax dollars smacks of the cynical throwing away of countless human beings,” Bob Cooke, former president of the California Narcotics Officers Association, testified.
Butler said California’s medicinal use law is so broad that many young and healthy people already have access to the drug, which studies have linked to increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and schizophrenia. He pointed out that unlike with alcohol, where there is a legal limit (.08 blood alcohol content) and anyone over the limit can be charged with driving while impaired, there are no such legal parameters with marijuana.
“People may smoke marijuana at 10 a.m. and then drive at 3 p.m. not realizing, depending on how often they use the drug, their reflexes can be impacted more than 24 hours later,” he said. “We don’t have a number to determine if you are under the influence of marijuana. We can’t say that you can’t drive because you have this much THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) in your blood.”
The lack of guiding regulations to the state’s medicinal use bill already has many municipalities trying to adopt stricter zoning to control the glut of dispensaries popping up all over.
“One news report said L.A. has more marijuana shops than it has Starbucks,” Butler said.
Unfortunately, Butler said the forces behind the push for total legalization of marijuana are well-financed and even if AB 390 doesn’t move forward it is likely that recreational marijuana will show up on the November ballot as the result of a signature drive.
Although New Jersey’s new medicinal marijuana law, which will offer the drug through state-monitored dispensaries, is not nearly as broad as California’s, opponents say it will still set the stage for increased drug abuse, especially among youth.
“Drug use among youth had been declining but this recent NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) study shows marijuana use up and a flattening out of other types of drug abuse since states have started to embrace pot,” said the Rev. Creech.
The Monitoring the Future study, released in December 2009, showed that 32.8 percent of high school seniors reported past year marijuana use. Some 26.7 percent of 10th-graders and 11.8 percent of 8th-graders admitted using the drug.
“The upward trending of the past two or three years stands in stark contrast to the steady decline that preceded it for nearly a decade,” lead researcher Lloyd Johnston told Boston University’s Join Together. “Not only is use rising, but a key belief about the degree of risk associated with marijuana use has been in decline among young people even longer, and the degree to which teens disapprove of use of the drug has recently begun to decline. Changes in these beliefs and attitudes are often very influential in driving changes in use.”
The Rev. Creech pointed out the futility of fighting teen drug abuse while endorsing marijuana for adults.
“This is one more reason that lawmakers in North Carolina need to reject the push for medicinal marijuana,” he said in reference to a bill filed last session by Rep. Earl Jones (D-Guilford). “We can’t expect our children to say no to this drug when we’re legitimizing it by pretending that it’s medicine, even though the FDA has found ‘no sound scientific studies’ to support its use.”
“The push for total legalization in California shows this movement for what it is and it has nothing to do with medicine.”