Legalization of marijuana: Consider your vote

Washington voters, along with those in Oregon and Colorado, will  vote this November on whether or not to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

The legalization of marijuana is primarily about money. Marijuana is now one of the top cash crops on the West Coast and in Mexico. Taxing the growth and distribution of this crop is very tempting for cash-strapped states like Washington. This proposal is even appealing to non-users who see marijuana users, like those who smoke, drink and gamble, as voluntarily carrying a heavier tax burden.

Proponents of Initiative 502 argue that legalization will help empty jails and prisons of users and dealers, freeing law enforcement personnel to focus on more serious crimes and criminals. This argument may not live up to scrutiny, however. Last year, over a 10-month period, Spokane County made 244 arrests for marijuana, and only five people spent more than 48 hours in jail. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs unanimously recommended, last November, that voters reject I-502.

Missing from much of this legalization discussion is a consideration of  the effects of marijuana on individuals and society. It is ironic that just when people are cutting back or stopping their tobacco consumption, we are wanting to legalize another addictive chemical. And, without doubt, legalizing marijuana will increase the number of addicted users in our society.

Not every marijuana user becomes addicted due to the fact that the onset of addiction is affected by such factors as age, genetics and frequency of use. But repeated use of marijuana can and does lead to addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

“Research shows that approximately 9 percent, or about 1 in 11, of those who use marijuana at least once will become addicted,” it says on its website. “The rate increases to 16 percent, or about 1 in 6, if you start in your teens, and goes up to 25-30 percent among daily users. Moreover, among young people in drug abuse treatment, marijuana accounts for the largest percentage of admissions: 61 percent of those under age 15 and 56 percent of those 15-19.”

Marijuana provides people with an altered state of mind, masking feelings and helping them avoid reality and responsibility. Avoiding reality and responsibility is definitely not the way to succeed in life. School dropouts routinely end up in treatment centers due to their marijuana habit. Less than half of those who receive treatment are able to overcome their addictive habit, at least on the first try. Those who continue their habit may count on a life of menial labor and strained relationships. Many adults, from all walks of life, use marijuana recreationally but walk a tightrope that may lead to addiction.

As once believed, marijuana use does not automatically lead to crime, heroin addiction, prostitution or insanity. This does not mean, however, that marijuana use is good for a person. Prolonged use of marijuana, especially by youth, has the tendency to alter personality and behavior in negative ways.  Frequency, amount used, potency and other variables shape marijuana’s psychoactive effects.

Marijuana primarily harms the user unless, that is, he or she tries to drive under its influence. A recent study conducted by the NIDA revealed that “marijuana is the most common illegal drug found in drivers who die in accidents (around 14 percent of drivers), often in combination with alcohol and other drugs. Marijuana affects a number of skills required for safe driving — alertness, concentration, coordination, and reaction time — so it is not safe to drive high or to ride with someone who’s been smoking.”

Vashon’s most recent Healthy Youth Survey, conducted by the state in 2010, revealed that 40 percent of 12th-graders had used marijuana in the previous 30 days. This is a very disturbing statistic. I-502 prohibits the distribution and possession of marijuana for people under age 21, but it seems Vashon youth now have little difficulty obtaining the drug. With legalization, youth, as well as adults, will have even less to inhibit or restrain their use and abuse of marijuana.

Please give careful thought to the way you vote on Initiative 502. There is much more involved in your choice than simply the money.


— Les Peterson is an Islander and a former addiction counselor.


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