Recently, I attended a meeting where the issue of legalizing the recreational use apf marijuana was a topic of discussion. Most of the comments in the room in favor of legalization highlighted the revenue that the state would receive if marijuana was legalized and then taxed.
Also, criminal record expungement and prison releases would occur, which purportedly saves the state time and money. I also heard comments like, “A lot of people are smoking pot privately anyway.” None of those reasons are compelling in my view and I would like to offer my perspective on this issue.
First, it’s a health issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 people who use marijuana at a young age become addicted. Marijuana users are more likely to develop temporary psychosis and long-lasting mental disorders, learning, coordination and memory issues. While supporters tout the drug helps anxiety, there are other drugs on the market that don’t have the harmful long-term effects as marijuana.
Marijuana is considered a gateway drug to harder illicit drugs. And, the American Lung Association, on its website, states, “Smoke from marijuana combustion has been shown to contain many of the same toxins, irritants and carcinogens as tobacco smoke.” Why would we want to add/promote another addictive, harmful vice to the myriad of unhealthy substances for consumers to use?
Second, it is listed as a Schedule I drug of the Controlled Substances Act, the most tightly restricted federal category reserved for drugs that have “no currently accepted medical use.” Accordingly, its possession and use remain a federal crime regardless of state laws. Connecting the issues of criminal justice reform is a separate issue and should be treated as such.
The governor has declared a statewide health care emergency due to opioid addiction, so legalizing a Schedule I substance is counter-productive to that cause and doesn’t make sense. Along with the mental and physical effects of the drug, renters can be evicted because those receiving Section 8 or other federal housing aid are prohibited from using marijuana. People can lose their job if they use marijuana even if it is legal under state law, and a person’s right to bear arms is in jeopardy if they use marijuana. Business policy, especially in high-risk industries, supersedes legal use aside from the fact that their insurance companies won’t cover these individuals if they test positive.
Third, it is dangerous. Marijuana legalization is linked to an increase in homicide rates. From 2012 – 2017, the number of homicides in Colorado and Washington increased by 41%.
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Two years after the state of Oregon legalized marijuana, the number of homicide offenses reported to NIBRS in Oregon increased 248 percent. After legalization in Colorado, 69% of marijuana users admitted to driving under the influence of marijuana, and 27% admit to doing it daily. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk found marijuana users are 1.25 times more likely to be involved in an automobile accident. This is the data the news media won’t cover.
Fourth, the revenues don’t exceed the costs, based on other states’ data over an eight-year time period. For every dollar that Colorado received in tax revenue from marijuana sales, it is spending $4.50 to mitigate social costs. In Pennsylvania, the human services line item in our state budget is the largest of any department in the state, and the increase in social costs recreational marijuana would incur would in turn reduce valuable Medicaid and social services that we currently fund.
Fifth, it’s an educational issue. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes, “The adverse effects of marijuana have been well documented” and include “impaired short-term memory, decreased concentration, attention span, and problem solving” which “interfere[s] with learning.” Researchers have also reported: “Regular cannabis use in adolescence approximately doubles the risks of early school-leaving and of cognitive impairment and psychoses in adulthood.” And other researchers have warned that states that have legalized “medical” marijuana find an association with higher 12th grade drop-out rates and lessened college attainment.
But the most troubling research has found: “Persistent adolescent-onset cannabis users” showed “an average 8-point IQ decline from childhood to adulthood.” Marijuana use can permanently lower intelligence and worsen, or perhaps cause, serious mental illness. At a time when the state is researching the possibility of putting mental health professionals into public schools, we are also about to legalize a substance that will make their jobs that much tougher, not easier. I want the best possible outcome for our next generation and legalizing recreational marijuana does not help to that end at all.
Sixth, we haven’t fully vetted the process of the most recent medical marijuana law. Under the recent medical marijuana laws Pa. passed, licensees have an obligation to patients, which have not been fulfilled as of yet, and we, as a legislative body, can not pollute that process with recreational marijuana.
Seventh, it’s a quality of life issue. How many of our district residents have actually lived in a state that has legalized recreational marijuana? I have. I lived in Alaska for three years, and I witnessed one of the most beautiful states in America diminished by a culture of enchantment where drug users couldn’t think for themselves, or others.
In more populated states, we are witnessing the negative impacts on quality of life. When you take your children to fireworks or in public venues, they will smell and breathe marijuana, just as they do with tobacco products and vaping. If you walk on public trails, bike ride, drive with your windows down, be prepared to take it in. While most communities don’t put up with public drunkenness or impaired driving, are we now willing to allow it?
Recreational marijuana is a gateway drug that will add to the detriment of society, promulgating excuses to shirk personal responsibility, which undermines our ability to be the best we can be as American citizens. Also, such a divisive issue, in a country that is already divided, ought to be decided by the legislature and the people, not by a single person. While I am very sympathetic to addiction, and want to help our statewide healthcare emergencies due to opioid addiction in particular, proponents of legalizing recreational marijuana will be hard pressed to get a sympathetic ear for their cause from this state legislator of the 199th District.
I want to hear from you on this issue. Please visit RepGleim.com and under the “Resources” tab there is a survey where you can register your position on recreational marijuana.
Barb Gleim (R-Carlisle) is a State Representative for the 199th District.