Guest column by Mara Hughes, freshman creative producing major
Why should you, like me, vote against Proposition 64, which would legalize recreational marijuana use in California if passed? For me, it comes down to the very real risks to individual and public health that legalization poses.
For any individual who chooses to smoke or consume marijuana for recreational purposes, there are significant health risks, from chronic diseases to cancer to life-altering mental illness. Contrary to popular belief — or at least what those who profit from of the sale of marijuana for recreational use would like you to think — marijuana use does not pose a milder health risk than or even an equal health risk to smoking tobacco. Marijuana is arguably worse.
Recent research shows that marijuana usage in varying amounts puts users at an especially high risk for psychological issues and mental illness. These include disturbingly heightened risks for the development of schizophrenia, permanent loss of IQ points in teenage marijuana users, persistent subclinical psychotic symptoms in teens, and in people of all ages, impaired verbal memory and worsened symptoms and increased violent behavior in those with post-traumatic stress disorder. The medical field has widely recognized that marijuana is not safe for any use beyond in specifically formulated medications using specific components of the plant.
Beyond threats to individual health, legalization of recreational marijuana use will cause the following very real threats to public health.
Just because you don’t smoke marijuana doesn’t mean you can avoid breathing in the smoke from other people doing so. If we implement Proposition 64, anywhere you are exposed to secondhand smoke from cigarettes, you could be exposed to secondhand smoke from marijuana as well. We know breathing in all kinds of smoke, second or first hand, is seriously unhealthy. Why make it worse?
Just like some people drive drunk regardless of everything they’re told, many will drive while under the influence of other psychologically-inhibiting substances such as marijuana. In states where recreational marijuana use has already been legalized, the rate of car accidents caused by driving while impaired by substance use shot up. Do we want more people getting injured and dying needlessly as the result of others’ carelessness? I don’t think so.
Dangers to children and adolescents
The more lenient we become with recreational use of psychologically-altering substances legally, the more the use of such substances becomes normalized in our society. The more normalized this gets, the earlier young adults, teenagers and children may begin to experiment with those substances, through easier access to substances in combination with greater social acceptance of their use. As I explained earlier, younger individuals (as old as 30) who try or use such substances, marijuana in particular, are at an extremely high risk for developing devastating psychological issues and mental illnesses as a result. Besides this, with any drug (alcohol and tobacco included) there is a risk of addiction, which as we know can ruin and end lives and you are at a higher risk for developing the younger you start. In addition, if people have marijuana stored around their houses (especially in an edible form), there is a definite risk of children who visit or live in that residence consuming some on accident—another dangerous health threat.
I recognize that there are some valid concerns with our current drug regulation policies, so while I am against the legalization of recreational marijuana, I do believe these policies require modernization and reform.
One such concern is the fact that the current policies are used to disproportionately target the poverty-stricken and non-white—white people and those with higher incomes are more likely to use and sell illegal substances but they are far less likely to face legal consequences for doing so.
I believe this is caused by the systemic racism entrenched in our country’s law enforcement system and government. Therefore, to remedy this, we must eliminate systemic racism—not the law which is used as an excuse to target these populations. We must work to reform our law enforcement and legal system so enforcement of any law cannot be applied unfairly – so one is not more likely to come under suspicion of criminal behavior based on race (or brutalized by law enforcement officials) and everyone receives a fair trial for any crime they are accused of and fair legal consequences if convicted for that crime.
The second major concern with our current drug regulation policies that I hold in agreement with many in favor of marijuana legalization is the fact that the harshness of the punishments for nonviolent drug-related crimes often lacks practicality. Our goal is for people to voluntarily choose to avoid recreational marijuana use.
So why should we send those caught using it to jail? It seems a harsh punishment when we could instead make the consequences constructive. We should consider changing them so when someone is convicted of illegal marijuana use or sale (assuming there is no violence or other criminality involved) they do not face jail time—they merely have the substance confiscated and disposed of and must go through counseling for recreational drug use and sale and/or substance abuse treatment.
In conclusion, why would we legalize something that will cause more harm the more it is accepted and normalized? I believe that we must modernize how we enforce drug use laws and overhaul our law enforcement system to eliminate racial bias and oppression and police brutality, but that the use and sale of recreational marijuana should remain illegal, for the sake of every individual’s present and future.