By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, SEPT. 12, 2010 (Zenit.org).- American voters go to the polls on Nov. 2 to cast votes for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 37 of the 100 seats in the Senate, as well as some 150 referendums scattered among 35 states.
One of the most controversial proposals is California’s Proposition 19, which would legalize the growing and possession of marijuana for personal use for adults 21 years and older.
According to a Sept. 8 report by the Associated Press, the latest polls show that opinion is almost evenly divided on the question.
California was the first state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, back in 1996. Since federal law still considers the use or provision of marijuana illegal there has been a tussle between federal authorities and California officials over the clinics selling marijuana for medical reasons.
In October last year it seemed that the federal government was backing off enforcing the national laws when the Department of Justice announced it would not prosecute marijuana users or providers who obey state law, the New York Times reported Oct. 28.
In a press release dated Oct. 23, R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, affirmed that this was not the case. “Marijuana legalization, for any purpose, remains a non-starter in the Obama Administration,” he said.
“To test the idea of legalizing and taxing marijuana, we only need to look at already legal drugs-alcohol and tobacco. We know that the taxes collected on these substances pale in comparison to the social and health care costs related to their widespread use,” he observed.
According to the Sept. 8 Associated Press report, nearly all the funds for the campaign in favor of Proposition 19 have come from businesses controlled by Richard Lee, who operates a medical marijuana dispensary and cafe in Oakland. Lee also established Oaksterdam University, which trains people to run their own medical marijuana businesses.
Among other arguments supporters of legalization hold out the tantalizing prospect of large amounts of government revenue if sales of marijuana are legalized and also taxed.
Skip Miller, a lawyer and chairman of D.A.R.E. America, a drug-abuse prevention and education program, addressed this issue in an opinion article published in the Los Angeles Times on Jan. 28.
He argued that legalization would mean higher levels of marijuana consumption and that in the long-term the costs of such substance abuse would “vastly exceed the relatively modest amount of new revenue legal weed might bring in.”
Miller cited figures from he National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. In figures published last year they estimated that in 2005 substance abuse and addiction cost federal, state and local governments $467.7 billion.
“Break out federal spending on substance abuse and addiction as its own budget item and it would rank near the top with defense, Social Security and Medicare,” he pointed out.
Moreover, the study revealed that only 13% of this cost is attributable to the justice system. Therefore, the savings on law enforcement of the prohibition of marijuana is not going to be significant, as the great majority of the costs derive from direct health care expenses.
Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, addressed the subject of the legalization of drugs in an article published in the Sept. 5 issue of the Sunday U.K. newspaper, the Observer.
Only 5% of the world’s population take drugs at least once a year, he observed. “Drugs are not dangerous because they are illegal: they are illegal because they are dangerous to health,” he stated.
Costa argued that it is a mistake to prioritize criminalization or to favor legalization as a solution. “Legalized drugs would unleash an epidemic of addiction in the developing world,” he stated.
“In a world of free drugs, the privileged rich can afford expensive treatment while poor people are condemned to a life of dependence,” Costa added.
The argument, however, goes well beyond public policy concerns. The personal use of marijuana is not simply some kind of lifestyle choice.
As Sarah Boseley, the health editor of the Guardian newspaper, pointed out in an article published last Dec. 1, Skunk, the more powerful form of marijuana that dominates the street market, is seven times more likely to trigger psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia than traditional ordinary cannabis.
Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry in London looked at the consumption of marijuana of 280 people who were admitted with a first episode of psychosis to the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. They were compared them with 174 healthy people from the area.
Those who used skunk were almost seven times more likely than ordinary cannabis users to develop psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia, they found.
In an article published last Nov. 3 in the London Times newspaper, Robin Murray, professor of Psychiatric Research at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, maintained that we cannot compare smoking marijuana with cigarettes or alcohol.
“Evidence has been mounting steadily over the past six years that initially healthy people who use cannabis daily are more likely to develop paranoia and psychosis,” he stated.
While 90% of daily users will not develop schizophrenia, just as most daily smokers will not die of lung cancer, Murray said that daily cannabis users are more likely to be unsuccessful in their careers, to have broken marriages and to suffer minor psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has amply documented the dangers of marijuana consumption.
The pamphlet titled “What Americans Need to Know About Marijuana,” states that marijuana is far from harmless. Marijuana smoke contains far more carcinogens than tobacco smoke and that in addition to causing problems with the respiratory system it also affects alertness, concentration, perception, coordination, and reaction time.
Moreover, marijuana users have more suicidal thoughts and are more likely to report symptoms of depression than people who never used the drug.
Contrary to popular belief, marijuana use is not a rite of passage. It is a risky behavior with serious consequences,” the document stated.
Alcohol and tobacco already cost society a great deal in terms of crime, lost productivity, the pamphlet noted “Why legalize marijuana and add a third drug to the current list of licit threats?”
In addition, while a direct cause-and-effect relationship between marijuana use and subsequent use of other drugs is hard to prove, the White House body did argue that among people who have ever used marijuana those who started early are more likely to have other problems later.
For example, adults who were early marijuana users were found to be eight times more likely to have used cocaine and 15 times more likely to have used heroin.
When it comes to the arguments related to the medical use of marijuana, the pamphlet commented that while a component in marijuana — THC — has been approved in pill form, marijuana smoke contains more than 400 chemicals and increases the risk of cancer,
lung damage, and poor pregnancy outcomes.
“Even if smoking marijuana makes people ‘feel better,’ that is not enough to call it a medicine,” it affirmed. After all, “If that were the case, tobacco cigarettes could be called medicine because they are often said to make people feel better.”
Whether it be same-sex marriage or drug policy, California has often been at the forefront of changes in cultural behavior. It remains to be seen if voters will follow the sirens of the latest trends or if they will pause to con
sider the long-term consequences of their choices.