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Let’s not jump the gun with marijuana legalization

Ellen Gerstein

Ellen Gerstein

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Ari Russell

It’s all we hear: Let’s legalize marijuana. What harm can it do? Marijuana legalization proponents are tugging on our heartstrings by highlighting how critical medical marijuana is for certain individuals. This seems like a new argument, but it’s not.

Since the 1970s, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has been supporting medical marijuana laws as the best strategy to achieve overall legalization of the drug. Their ploy has worked. Public support for legalization has increased. But there is more to the story than this. Don’t be fooled by social media posts that discard concerns about the drug. These very vocal proponents of legalization are sharing their opinions, not facts.

To say that marijuana is no worse than alcohol is like saying that being murdered by a gun is no worse than being murdered by a knife. Alcohol is addictive; so is marijuana. Driving while intoxicated is dangerous; so is driving stoned. The earlier you start drinking, the more likely you will become dependent; ditto for marijuana.

Today’s pot is stronger than ever, increasing problems associated with it. Pot negatively affects perceptions, coordination, motivation, memory and learning. Teens who smoke marijuana regularly may actually experience a permanent reduction in IQ. Marijuana use by high school seniors has doubled since the drive to legalize medical marijuana began in earnest because their perception of harm has changed.

Since Colorado first legalized medical marijuana, it has been among the top seven states for marijuana use, especially in the 12-25 age groups. During the first four years, fatal marijuana-related car crashes doubled while overall fatal crashes went down. Last year, they legalized pot for recreational use. In only a few months, 27 percent of impaired drivers tested positive for marijuana, a seven point jump. Marijuana-related suspensions/expulsions from school have almost doubled statewide. Colorado bureaucrats supported legalization thinking the tax revenue would be beneficial. However, there is still a huge black market trade of marijuana because it’s cheaper than store-bought pot. As with alcohol and tobacco, they soon realize that taxes are not going to offset the cost of problems associated with increased use like health problems, addiction treatment, school and college dropout, traffic injuries and deaths and more.

Cannabidiol, the part of marijuana used in medicine, isn’t smoked and doesn’t get you high. It has been available in pill and oil form for years. It would be more prudent to make these available by prescription to patients who really need them rather than legalizing marijuana and allowing dispensaries in Georgia. In states that allow dispensaries, more than one-third of 12th-graders reported getting their pot from someone else’s medical marijuana recommendation.

If this happens in Georgia, we will certainly see the same increases in teen use, addiction, traffic fatalities and related problems as they have seen in Colorado and other medical marijuana states. Do you really want to make marijuana more available to youth, contend with drivers impaired by the drug, and see your employees’ work performance negatively affected?

Ellen Gerstein is Executive Director of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Serives. Ari Russell is Executive Director of GUIDE (Gwinnett United In Drug Education).