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Legalizing marijuana: Be careful what you wish for

To legalize or not to legalize, that is the question.
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This is my final word on marijuana, otherwise affectionately referred to as weed, pot, grass, Mary Jane, and other assorted nicknames. It’s the most popular drug in the U.S. and will undoubtedly continue to make headlines, especially since it’s now recreationally as well as medically legal in both Washington and Colorado. That, naturally, has lots of folks applauding and cashing in, too, but it’s not without its downsides.

Take, for instance, this recent USA Today news item: “Colorado kids eat parents’ pot-laced goodies: Getting high is as easy as opening a kitchen cupboard.” Said article leads off by saying, “The easy availability of marijuana in Colorado is raising concerns among police, parents, and teachers who worry that kids are getting sick from eating pot-infused ‘edibles.’” Explains reporter Trevor Hughes: “Manufacturers are adding marijuana to everything from cookies to chocolate bars, sodas, and candies, and strength and serving size vary widely.”

The result, says Dr. George “Sam” Wang of Denver’s Children’s Hospital, is that his emergency room treats one to two kids every month who accidentally ingested pot; five years ago, there were no such cases at all.

Nevertheless, Obama earlier this year remarked, “As has been well-documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it’s more dangerous than alcohol.”

So, there you go; this, despite evidence to the contrary. For instance, according to the American Lung Association, “Marijuana smoke contains a greater amount of carcinogens than tobacco smoke.” Then there’s the fact that it’s inhaled more deeply and held longer in the lungs.

Meanwhile, pot reportedly increases heart rate and thus poses a heart attack risk. It negatively affects our brains, too, by impairing short-term memory, slowing down reaction times, and altering judgment and decision-making. Put that all together, and the chances of an auto accident more than doubles.

There’s more, too, when it comes to behind-the-wheel. After studying the data from six states, researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health recently concluded that, "One in nine drivers involved in fatal crashes would test positive for marijuana.” In fact, 28% of such deaths were attributed to drugged driving—16% more than in 1999—and pot was the main drug involved in the increase.

Consider, too, that, if a driver is under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana—a not far-fetched possibility—their risk of a fatal crash is 24 times that of a sober person.

Nevertheless and reflecting the lead of the president, Coloradans and Washingtonians, a recent Pew Research Center poll of 1,821 adults found that 75%--including even those in opposition--believe that pot will eventually be legalized throughout the country. In addition, of those surveyed:

  • 39% said pot should be legal for personal adult use.
  • 44% said it should be legal only for medicinal use.
  • 16% opposed legalization altogether.
  • 54% said legalization will lead to more of the underaged trying it.
  • 63% said it would bother them if it were used openly in their neighborhood.

About such results, Smart Approaches to Marijuana co-founder Kevin Sabel said, “Saying that we don’t want people to serve prison time is very different from saying I want a pot shop in my neighborhood selling cookies and candies and putting coupons in the paper.”

How about you?

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