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Making Decisions about Marijuana

May 26, 2015

A lot has been written about the steady march toward legalization of marijuana in our country. Those who support it say it’s a natural recreational drug which is no more harmful than tobacco and alcohol which are already legal. Those who oppose it say it’s a drug which will negatively affect the youth in our country and set the stage for further substance abuse issues in society as a whole. Experts align on both sides of the issue so it's hard to know who is right.  

What do we know about this issue? Well, we know for more than 70 years government officials at the state and national level in our country have maintained a policy which prohibited the use of the marijuana and have enforced this policy with criminal sanctions. We know a lot of people have been charged with drug trafficking and possession during this period and resolving the charges has taken up a lot of criminal justice resources. We know the sale of marijuana is a very lucrative business.  We know criminal enterprises control much of the supply in our country. We know these criminals will do whatever it takes to protect their markets and profits. We know the profits are used to enhance the criminal enterprises and destabilize governments in our country and abroad. We know there has been a coordinated effort over the past 30 years to legalize the recreational use of this drug. We know some states have legalized the marijuana for medical purposes, while others have either decriminalized or legalized the drug. We know they are business interests who are ready to enter the market just as soon as the drug is legalized. We know some states see legalization of marijuana as a new source of tax revenue. Finally, we know the attitudes of society are shifting. 

What we don’t know is what the impact of legalization of marijuana will be on society. In order to understand this better we need a laboratory, a state which would be willing to experiment with the lives of its citizens. Well we now have the laboratory it is the State of Colorado which legalized the sale of recreational marijuana last year. 

I now have a lot of colleagues who are looking at the news coming out of that state. 
Recently, one of them sent me a link to an article titled “Marijuana Intoxication Blamed in More Deaths, Injuries” which pointed out the death toll from marijuana intoxication in Colorado is increasing. The article outlines three cases where authorities believe use of marijuana played a major part in the death of the user or another. 

News of this sort certainly gets the attention of those who are watching. But death or injury from marijuana use is difficult to acknowledge because we all know people who have used marijuana for years without major complications. So it would be easy to dismiss this information or to rationalize it away. But that would be a mistake as there are real consequences to the decisions we make in this regard.      

As a nation we have struggled with this issue for more than 70 years. The media has popularized the drug culture to the point the use of drugs and alcohol is somehow viewed as a rite of passage. As each generation comes of age they have to come to terms with the information which is available and then make individual choices regarding their use of these substances. 

So the real question is, are we paying attention and what are we thinking?  Researchers tell us the Millennial Generation (those born from 1980-2000) are more liberal in their view towards marijuana use than previous generations. This is evidenced by the larger segment of Millennial Republicans which now support legalization of marijuana.

In addition, legalization of marijuana has now become a “wedge” issue politicians can use to their advantage in certain parts of the state and nation. Because of this many politicians have disengaged and the federal government sees this as an opportunity to disengage in the name of state’s rights. Of course, those who see a profit to be made are rushing in to take advantage of the situation.  To some degree this all makes sense.  

So in the meanwhile we should all pay close attention to the news coming out of Colorado as there are many lessons to be learned. We should seek to understand how the full scale introduction of a new recreational drug impacts their youth, public safety and quality of life.  Hopefully, the media will continue to provide us with all the information we need so we can make good decisions for the next generation. 

The Sheriffs in our state are committed to making sure the public has the information they need to make an informed decision in the matter regarding the direction we take as a state.