Law Enforcement for Legalized Marijuana?

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prop-19Why doesn’t more law enforcement support the elimination of marijuana laws?  In private, most police officers will acknowledge they do not like marijuana laws.  Some do not like drug laws in general and do not believe that such laws work.

I remember last summer going on police ride-alongs on back-to-back days in Davis and Woodland.  In both cities we encountered someone in the park with marijuana.  In both cases, the police took the marijuana away, gave the individual a warning, but did not write up a citation.  It was explained to me that from the standpoint of law enforcement, possession charges are cumbersome and costly.

To process a case costs far more than the fine for possession, I was told.  Although the other day, I saw an individual get a nearly $600 fine for possession of marijuana.  But think about the costs of going through the court system, having law enforcement book stuff into evidence, and so on, just to get out of it only a $600 fine.

In candid moments, police officers have frequently told me that they would rather marijuana not be illegal.  They feel that marijuana users rarely present a danger to others.  They are not violent.  They do not cause the kinds of public nuisances that alcohol users create.

And yet, when you go down the list of Proposition 19 opponents you will get a list of sheriffs from 56 counties, including Ed Prieto, Yolo County’s Sheriff.  You will get a list of DA’s from 32 counties, including Jeff Reisig, Yolo County’s District Attorney.  And for good measure, 35 police chiefs, although none from Yolo County.

However, like every profession, law enforcement is not a monolith and there is a group of law enforcement officials that are speaking out in favor of the initiative.  They are associated with a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a Massachusetts-based group that has organized an international coalition of pro-legalization ex-cops, judges and prosecutors.

But as the Sacramento Bee reported earlier this week, “the LEAP-connected law enforcement support doesn’t appear to be too deep. The No on Proposition 19 campaign has racked up a substantial showing of law enforcement support itself.”

On Monday in West Hollywood, retired deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department Stephen Downing,  former  deputy DA from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office William John Cox, former Torrance Police Department beat officer and drug identification expert Kyle Kazan, and retired Orange County Superior Court Judge James Gray were among  a group of retired law enforcement officers that endorsed Proposition 19.

The group held simultaneous press conferences on Monday in front of Oakland City Hall, and in West Hollywood Park near Los Angeles, to release a letter of endorsement signed by dozens of law enforcers across the state.

“At each step of my law enforcement career – from beat officer up to chief of police in two major American cities – I saw the futility of our marijuana prohibition laws,” said Joseph McNamara, former police chief in San Jose and Kansas City, MO, now a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “But our marijuana laws are much worse than ineffective: they waste valuable police resources and also create a lucrative black market that funds cartels and criminal gangs with billions of tax-free dollars.”

Former LAPD sergeant, and Los Angeles County supervising trial counsel and deputy district attorney William John Cox added, “This November, Californians finally have a chance to flip the equation and put drug cartels out of business, while restoring public respect for the criminal laws and their enforcement by passing Proposition 19 to control and regulate marijuana.”

In the letter, the group writes, “As police officers, judges, prosecutors, corrections officials and others who have labored to enforce the laws that seek to prohibit cannabis (marijuana) use, and who have witnessed the abysmal failure of this current criminalization approach, we stand together in calling for new laws that will effectively control and tax cannabis.”

“As criminal justice professionals, we have seen with our own eyes that keeping cannabis illegal damages public safety — for cannabis consumers and non-consumers alike. We’ve also seen that prohibition sometimes has tragic consequences for the law enforcers charged with putting their lives on the line to enforce it,” the letter continues.  “The only groups that benefit from continuing to keep marijuana illegal are the violent gangs and cartels that control its distribution and reap immense profits from it through the black market.”

One key point that they make is that they believe “that legalization will allow us to do our jobs more effectively and safely.”

They argue, “In 2008, there were over 60,000 arrests for simple misdemeanor cannabis possession in California, yet nearly 60,000 violent crimes went unsolved in our state that same year. When we change our cannabis laws, police officers will no longer have to waste time on low-level cannabis arrests. We’ll be able to focus on protecting the public from murderers, rapists, drunk drivers and burglars. Cannabis cases will no longer clog up court dockets. And room in our costly, overflowing prisons will be freed up when we stop locking people up just because they tested positive for cannabis while on probation.”

They also believe that reducing the amount of effort to enforce marijuana laws will allow resources to help reduce other more serious crimes.  “Because of all the overhead and administrative savings that legalization will generate, our criminal justice apparatus will have more resources to keep more good law enforcers employed, serving the public in this time of fiscal turmoil,” they continue.  “Ending prohibition will also put a stop to other crimes and problems caused by the illegal marijuana market, such as robberies, gang warfare, gun-running and house fires caused by underground growing operations.”

Many have argued that Prop 19 will make marijuana more available to minors, but they argue the opposite.  “Controlling marijuana through a regulated system will also reduce its availability to kids,” they claim.  “Right now, illegal dealers have no incentive to check IDs or avoid selling to juveniles, given that the market is illegal for everyone. But under adult legalization, licensed cannabis businesses will face penalties and consequences that will effectively deter underage sales. Indeed, a recent study from Columbia University shows that teens currently find it easier to purchase illegal marijuana than age-regulated alcohol.”

The letter is signed by 21 current and former officials.

California’s tax collector, the Board of Equalization (BOE), which currently collects alcohol and tobacco taxes, estimates that marijuana taxes could generate $1.4 billion in revenue each year, which would be available to fund law enforcement, healthcare, and other critical needs, the release cites.

Similarly to current alcohol and tobacco laws, the group’s release points out, Proposition 19 will give state and local governments the ability to control and tax the sale of small amounts of cannabis to adults age 21 and older. As the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), which provides non-partisan fiscal and policy advice, confirms, Prop 19 includes significant safeguards and controls: It maintains strict criminal penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana, increases the penalty for providing marijuana to a minor, expressly prohibits the consumption of marijuana in public, forbids smoking marijuana while minors are present, and bans possession on school grounds.

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) also says Prop 19 would enable California to put our police priorities where they belong, in that it “could result in savings to the state and local governments by reducing the number of marijuana offenders incarcerated in state prisons and county jails, as well as the number placed under county probation or state parole supervision. These savings could reach several tens of millions of dollars annually. The county jail savings would be offset to the extent that jail beds no longer needed for marijuana offenders would be used for other criminals who are now being released early because of a lack of jail space.”

It is pretty clear that the public group of law enforcement officers is small and, looking at some of the names, tends to consist of outliers in the law enforcement community.  However, I would argue that they may well speak for a larger group that is simply not willing to put its names out there.  As I said at the outset of this article, there is a large sentiment from a lot in law enforcement that marijuana laws are a waste of time and money.  However, most are never going to say that publicly.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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39 thoughts on “Law Enforcement for Legalized Marijuana?”

  1. David M. Greenwald

    This is a shameless promotion I know, but we have a new feature at the top of this article that I want to draw your attention to. Facebook users can hit the “like” button, if you like the article it’s a good way to help promote the Vanguard and share with your facebook friends.

  2. davistownie

    [quote]And yet, when you go down the list of Proposition 19 opponents you will get a list of Sheriffs from 56 counties,[/quote]

    there is a big difference between the views of rank and file law enforcement folks (who are actually concerned with the enforcing laws on the streets) and elected sheriffs (who are concerned with looking “tough on crime” so that they can be re-elected).

    I have also been told by a number of police officers (Sacramento cops mostly), when they were off duty and relaxed, that marijuana laws are a waste of their time to deal with and that they often just either take it away and throw it in the trash (yes, the trash), or give it back with a warning, so that they don’t have to deal with any evidence.

  3. Frankly

    Police are almost as diverse in their views about the validity and usefulness of laws as is the general population. The difference is their unique perspective to intimately experience how the bottom of society lives and behaves. However, there is also a need for them to comply with their professional code to uphold the law. Laws are made by legislatures, and their use are constantly interpreted by the judicial. Cops are supposed to be almost robotic in their enforcement of the law subject to that interpretation. We would create all sorts of problems if we counted on law enforcement to get involved in the politics of law making.

    Privately I have heard many copy say that they believed pot should be legal for people 21 or over. Professionally they would keep this opinion to themselves and just enforce the laws on the books.

    A bigger question for me… since we are governed by progressive Democrats at the national level… and California has had a Democrat legislature and a fiscally conservative and socially liberal Governor for six years… how come we are not seeing more leadership of this issue from national and state politicians? I think that the answer is that the Democrats are paying back public employee unions that get job security from harsh drug enforcement laws. That is a despicable reason in my book.

  4. Musser

    here we go again…
    a frequent argument I hear from people like you is that marijuana prohibition doesn’t work, and it is costly. what you are not taking into account is all of the people who never get started on marijuana in the first place because it is illegal, people who otherwise might consider doing it if it was.

    DPD:“could result in savings to the state and local governments by reducing the number of marijuana offenders incarcerated in state prisons and county jails, as well as the number placed under county probation or state parole supervision. These savings could reach several tens of millions of dollars annually. The county jail savings would be offset to the extent that jail beds no longer needed for marijuana offenders would be used for other criminals who are now being released early because of a lack of jail space.”

    as I pointed out in my article, the result of 19’s passage has costs associated with it that you are not taking into account. One of which is that marijuana prices are likely to go down – as a result, use will go up (supply and demand) and all of the social and health care costs will increase…

    if you look at alcohol, 50% of all traffic deaths are dui’s. now throw in cheap legal weed into the mix. not to mention that weed mixed with alcohol has an effect multiplier.

    I also challenge the idea of the state collecting the taxes you say because people can grow the crap in their backyards, something the state cannot tax. so who’s kidding who, much of the pot is likely to evade taxation. but now people can safely grow it in their backyards without fear of law enforcement.

    the rand study predicts all kinds of new regulatory and enforcement costs as a result of 19’s passage

    I said it before and I’ll say it again.. do we really want more people stoned on dope when we are trying to get the economy moving again?

    DPD: ” However, I would argue that they may well speak for a larger group that is simply not willing to put its names out there. As I said at the outset of this article, there is a large sentiment from a lot in law enforcement that marijuana laws are a waste of time and money.”

    in other words, you dismiss law enforcement officials who don’t tell you what you want to hear, and magnify the ones that do. just because you say that they speak for a larger group doesn’t make it so. I’m calling your bluff.

  5. Musser

    if we made petty crime legal, we could free up resources to deal with armed robbery.

    if we made robbery legal, we could free up resources to deal with rape

    if we made rape legal, we could free up resources to deal with murder.

    see how rediculous that sounds?!!?!!

  6. E Roberts Musser

    dgm: “Why doesn’t more law enforcement support the elimination of marijuana laws? In private, most police officers will acknowledge they do not like marijuana laws. Some do not like drug laws in general and do not believe that such laws work.”

    Take a look at the case of singer George Michael for your answer… high on marijuana (and according to the court severely addicted to marijuana) when he crashed into a store front.

    dmg: “In candid moments, police officers have frequently told me that they would rather marijuana not be illegal.”

    How many and who said this? It does not jive with reality: “And yet, when you go down the list of Proposition 19 opponents you will get a list of sheriffs from 56 counties, including Ed Prieto, Yolo County’s Sheriff. You will get a list of DA’s from 32 counties, including Jeff Reisig, Yolo County’s District Attorney. And for good measure, 35 police chiefs, although none from Yolo County.”

    dmg: “They argue, “In 2008, there were over 60,000 arrests for simple misdemeanor cannabis possession in California, yet nearly 60,000 violent crimes went unsolved in our state that same year. When we change our cannabis laws, police officers will no longer have to waste time on low-level cannabis arrests. We’ll be able to focus on protecting the public from murderers, rapists, drunk drivers and burglars. Cannabis cases will no longer clog up court dockets. And room in our costly, overflowing prisons will be freed up when we stop locking people up just because they tested positive for cannabis while on probation.””

    This is a bogus argument. The police have the discretion right now not to charge someone for smoking marijuana, or possessing a small amount. As you pointed out:”In both cases, the police took the marijuana away, gave the individual a warning, but did not write up a citation. It was explained to me that from the standpoint of law enforcement, possession charges are cumbersome and costly.”

    dmg: “Many have argued that Prop 19 will make marijuana more available to minors, but they argue the opposite. “Controlling marijuana through a regulated system will also reduce its availability to kids,” they claim. “Right now, illegal dealers have no incentive to check IDs or avoid selling to juveniles, given that the market is illegal for everyone. But under adult legalization, licensed cannabis businesses will face penalties and consequences that will effectively deter underage sales. Indeed, a recent study from Columbia University shows that teens currently find it easier to purchase illegal marijuana than age-regulated alcohol.””

    Regulate the sale of marijuana to minors? The way they are able to regulate the sale of cigarettes and alcolhol to minors? (And when legalizing marijuana, it will now be readily available at home for the kids to get a hold of/grow.) LOL

    dmg: “The letter is signed by 21 current and former officials.”

    Only 21 officials from across the state/nation? Not a ringing endorsement, thank goodness.

    dmg: “California’s tax collector, the Board of Equalization (BOE), which currently collects alcohol and tobacco taxes, estimates that marijuana taxes could generate $1.4 billion in revenue each year, which would be available to fund law enforcement, healthcare, and other critical needs, the release cites.”

    And this is the justification for legalizing marijuana – more tax revenue? That is morally bankrupt. Secondly, the price of marijuana will go down if legalized, right? Heck, why not just grow the stuff in your own backyard/basement and its free! This will decrease tax revenue. Not to mention we will have to put regulatory agencies in place to make sure kids don’t get a hold of marijuana (LOL), and how much is that going to cost? Trust me, legalizing marijuana to gain tax revenue is going to be a losing proposition.

  7. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “The California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) also says Prop 19 would enable California to put our police priorities where they belong, in that it “could result in savings to the state and local governments by reducing the number of marijuana offenders incarcerated in state prisons and county jails, as well as the number placed under county probation or state parole supervision.”

    This could be achieved now by law enforcement looking the other way when witnessing someone smoking pot. Law enforcement in the field has almost unfettered discretion along these lines.

    dmg: “It is pretty clear that the public group of law enforcement officers is small and, looking at some of the names, tends to consist of outliers in the law enforcement community. However, I would argue that they may well speak for a larger group that is simply not willing to put its names out there. As I said at the outset of this article, there is a large sentiment from a lot in law enforcement that marijuana laws are a waste of time and money. However, most are never going to say that publicly.”

    Wishing doesn’t make it so. Your logic escapes me here. Because an extremely small minority of law enforcement, who you admit are on the left leaning fringes, are in favor of legalizing marijuana, ergo a lot of law enforcement are in favor of legalizing marijuana but just don’t want to say so, notwithstanding that most of law enforcement has come out against legalizing marijuana? Uh huh, sure, and I believe in the Easter Bunny!

  8. Musser

    DPD: Many have argued that Prop 19 will make marijuana more available to minors, but they argue the opposite. “Controlling marijuana through a regulated system will also reduce its availability to kids,” they claim. “Right now, illegal dealers have no incentive to check IDs or avoid selling to juveniles, given that the market is illegal for everyone. But under adult legalization, licensed cannabis businesses will face penalties and consequences that will effectively deter underage sales. Indeed, a recent study from Columbia University shows that teens currently find it easier to purchase illegal marijuana than age-regulated alcohol.”

    daddy can now grow marijuana in his backyard and smoke it in his house legally. are you telling me that junior will never go in the backyard or will never ever be near his father when he shoots up?

    and fyi: if the system is to be trully regulated like you say, there are costs associated with that…. which you neglect to mention.

  9. E Roberts Musser

    Listen to the arguments for legalizing marijuana:
    1) Can collect tax more revenue (well, let’s legalize child porn so we can collect more tax revenue why don’t we?)
    2) Police don’t have to waste so much time (well, let’s decrease what constitutes crime, say petty theft, and the police will have more time to deal with more serious crimes?)
    3) Less prisoners in jail (well, let’s legalize selling snuff films, then we can cut down on the jail population?)
    4) Smoking pot is harmless (well, then let’s allow pot smoking while driving; pot smoking while going to school; pot smoking while working around heavy machinery or doing kind of work?)
    5) It will prevent more kids from smoking pot (well, let’s build an entire regulatory infrastructure that will prevent kids from smoking pot bc we know how well that has worked with drugs and alcohol, and how little money is spent on that?)

    Sorry but my comment to the proponents of legalizing pot is: ^%$*%(%^)*)
    I’ll get off my soap box now…but still fuming (pun intended!)…

  10. Frankly

    ERM: My problem with the current laws on marijuana are twofold:

    1) It costs much more to enforce than we receive in social benefit. The fact is that almost any adult that wants to smoke pot, can acquire pot… and many kids have access to it and smoke it even though it is illegal and we spend billions of dollars to enforce this illegality.

    2) I don’t have an answer to the question posed by my two very intelligent sons: “Why is drinking alcohol legal and smoking pot illegal when there is so much evidence that drinking alcohol is much more damaging to society as a whole than is smoking pot?”

    As a conservative libertarian, I would prefer that we grow some common sense about marijuana relative to other things we accept and deny. It seems that smoking pot would work better for society if it was legalized and controlled similar to alcohol and it became an individual choice with appropriate consequences. I keep thinking of the absurdity that there is this naturally growing weed we cannot allow, but we can allow another drug that requires complex processing. It does not make rational sense to me and that is my problem.

  11. Don Shor

    ERM:
    Listen to the arguments…
    “1) Can collect tax more revenue…
    2) Police don’t have to waste so much time…
    3) Less prisoners in jail…
    4) Smoking pot is harmless…
    5) It will prevent more kids from smoking pot…”

    I don’t agree with any of those arguments. Some are slightly more valid than others, but mostly they are bogus. I simply don’t think any adult should face any legal or civil consequences for private consumption of marijuana, or for cultivation for private use. I have no problem with regulating it and taxing it, just as alcohol is regulated and taxed. But there is no reason that the millions of casual users should have their lives disrupted by prohibitions on private use.

  12. E Roberts Musser

    From an article on the Internet:
    “LONDON — George Michael was sentenced to eight weeks in jail and lost his license for five years Tuesday for driving under the influence of drugs when he crashed his car into a London photo shop.

    A British judge told the wayward star his addiction to marijuana put him and the public at risk.

    The former Wham! singer pleaded guilty last month to driving under the influence and possession of cannabis following a July 4 collision between his Range Rover and a Snappy Snaps store in north London.

    District Judge John Perkins told the singer he had taken a “dangerous and unpredictable mix” of prescription drugs and marijuana.

    “It does not appear that you took proper steps to deal with what is clearly an addiction to cannabis,” the judge said. “That’s a mistake which puts you and, on this occasion, the public at risk.”

    Perkins sentenced Michael to the prison time and a 1,250 pound ($1,930) fine during a hearing at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court.

    The judge said Michael would have to serve four weeks of the sentence in prison and the rest on parole.

    Michael arrived at court in a chauffeur-driven car, surrounded by four security guards and greeted by a large crowd of fans and photographers. He left with court guards who led him from the courtroom toward the cells, as one person in the public gallery sobbed.

    According to police, Michael appeared “spaced out” when they found him sitting in the car, whose engine was still running, in the wee hours of July 4. He acknowledged smoking marijuana and taking a prescription sedative, prosecutors said.

    It was the latest in a string of automotive and drug-related mishaps for the 47-year-old star, who has often spoken of his fondness for marijuana.

    In February 2006, he was found slumped at the wheel of his car at London’s busy Hyde Park Corner. That April, he hit three parked cars while trying to maneuver out of a parking space, and admitted being “a terrible driver.”

    In October 2006, he was found slumped over the wheel of his car as it blocked an intersection. He pleaded guilty to driving while unfit through drugs and was sentenced to community service.

    Michael’s lawyer, Mukul Chawla, said the singer felt “profound shame and horror” at his actions.

    “It is no exaggeration to describe him as a very kind, considerate and loyal man, constantly concerned for the plight of others,” Chawla said. “The prospect he could have put anyone else in danger is an appalling prospect to him.”

    The judge said he was sending Michael to jail “with regret,” and had taken into account his guilty plea and the fact that after the crash he had checked into a clinic to seek help for anxiety, depression and insomnia.

    But he said Michael’s previous conviction made a prison sentence inevitable.

    Michael sighed as sentence was passed. His long-term partner Kenny Goss buried his head in his hands.

    Michael gained mega-stardom in his early 20s as half of Wham! and went on to a successful solo career. His first solo album, 1987’s “Faith,” sold 20 million copies.

    In 1998, he was arrested for lewd conduct in a public toilet in Los Angeles after being spotted by an undercover police officer. Michael went on to release a single and video, “Outside,” that poked fun at that arrest.”

  13. E Roberts Musser

    Don Shor: “I simply don’t think any adult should face any legal or civil consequences for private consumption of marijuana, or for cultivation for private use.”

    If you become the victim of someone driving while addicted to marijuana, you might want to rethink your position. Or when stoned kids don’t do well in school, or when workers are not very productive after taking a marijuana break… Or when you as a taxpayer end up paying more in taxes to feed the useless regulatory system that will be developed to supposedly stop kids from obtaining marijuna already available in their own homes…

  14. Frankly

    If you become the victim of someone driving while addicted to [alcohol], you might want to rethink your position. Or when [drunk]kids don’t do well in school, or when workers are not very productive after taking a [booze]break… Or when you as a taxpayer end up paying more in taxes to feed the useless regulatory system that will be developed to supposedly stop kids from obtaining [booze] already available in their own homes…

  15. Don Shor

    If you become the victim of someone driving while addicted to marijuana, you might want to rethink your position.
    It should be, and would remain, illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana. It is also illegal to drive while impaired by prescription drugs.
    I don’t believe that marijuana causes addiction in any physiological sense, although certainly it can be a compulsive behavior. But that is irrelevant to the legal status of the drug.

    Or when stoned kids don’t do well in school,
    It is, of course, already illegal for kids to go to school stoned.

    or when workers are not very productive after taking a marijuana break…
    That is the employer’s problem, and readily dealt with via personnel policies.

    Or when you as a taxpayer end up paying more in taxes to feed the useless regulatory system that will be developed to supposedly stop kids from obtaining marijuna already available in their own homes…
    That argument is just as bogus as the ones we discussed earlier.
    Again: there is no reason to criminalize consumption of marijuana by adults. It is harmful to young adults to face criminal sanctions of any kind, so there has to be an over-riding societal benefit for proscribing behavior. That over-riding benefit simply isn’t there. Millions of American adults use marijuana casually with little or no impact on the rest of us.

  16. Frankly

    Elaine: Note, I was just making the point of the absurdity, not mocking your points which are valid except that I thought I read that pot, unlike alcohol, has no true addictive properties… although it may be habit forming.

    Also, I don’t think you can OD on pot… or commit suicide smoking copious amounts of pot.

    Another thing… I understand that a pot high, unlike a drunk state, causes most people a mellow and peaceful feeling. I don’t read of many fights breaking out at pot parties… although maybe there is a bit more pushing and shoving at the snack tray.

    Last point… are there studies that prove pot DUI is an dangerous as alcohol DUI? I assume being stoned would cause some response time impairment, but truthfully I am sure about this or if there has been research done to prove it.

  17. David M. Greenwald

    Elaine:

    You posted the George Michael article but you might notice he was not merely on pot (not that it’s alright to smoke pot and drive), but in fact; “District Judge John Perkins told the singer he had taken a [u]”dangerous and unpredictable mix” of prescription drugs and marijuana[/u].”

    Of course, people crash all the time on alcohol and it’s legal. So I’m not sure what your overall point is.

  18. E Roberts Musser

    Don Shor: “I don’t believe that marijuana causes addiction in any physiological sense, although certainly it can be a compulsive behavior. But that is irrelevant to the legal status of the drug.”

    *Here we are, as a nation, trying to get our kids off of cigarettes, only to turn them on to smoking marijuana.
    *Kids will mimic what their parents do. Smoke pot, and so will they.
    *If it is harmful for children, then mom and dad shouldn’t be doing it either.

    From internet: “Question: How is Marijuana Harmful?
    Answer: Marijuana can be harmful in a number of ways, through both immediate effects and damage to health over time.

    Marijuana hinders the user’s short-term memory (memory for recent events), and he or she may have trouble handling complex tasks. With the use of more potent varieties of marijuana, even simple tasks can be difficult.

    Because of the drug’s effects on perceptions and reaction time, users could be involved in auto crashes. Drug users also may become involved in risky sexual behavior. There is a strong link between drug use and unsafe sex and the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

    Under the influence of marijuana, students may find it hard to study and learn. Young athletes could find their performance is off; timing, movements, and coordination are all affected by THC.

    Some of the more long-range effects of marijuana use are described in another section of these FAQs.

    Question: What Does Marijuana Do to the Brain?
    Answer: Some studies show that when people have smoked large amounts of marijuana for years, the drug takes its toll on mental functions.

    Heavy or daily use of marijuana affects the parts of the brain that control memory, attention, and learning. A working short-term memory is needed to learn and perform tasks that call for more than one or two steps.

    Smoking marijuana causes some changes in the brain that are like those caused by cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. Some researchers believe that these changes may put a person more at risk of becoming addicted to other drugs, such as cocaine or heroin. Scientists are still learning about the many ways that marijuana could affect the brain.

    Question: Does Using Marijuana Lead to Other Drugs?
    Answer: Long-term studies of high school students and their patterns of drug use show that very few young people use other drugs without first trying marijuana, alcohol, or tobacco. Though few young people use cocaine, for example, the risk of doing so is much greater for youth who have tried marijuana than for those who have never tried it.
    While research has not fully explained this association, growing evidence suggests a combination of biological, social, and psychological factors are involved.

    Researchers are examining the possibility that long-term marijuana use may create changes in the brain that make a person more at risk of becoming addicted to other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine (16). While many young people who use marijuana do not go on to use other drugs, further research is needed to determine who will be at greatest risk.”

  19. E Roberts Musser

    Jeff Boone: “I thought I read that pot, unlike alcohol, has no true addictive properties… although it may be habit forming.”

    Now how does something become habit forming, but not addictive?

    Jeff Boone: “Last point… are there studies that prove pot DUI is an dangerous as alcohol DUI? I assume being stoned would cause some response time impairment, but truthfully I am sure about this or if there has been research done to prove it.”

    See article above about Michael George (singer) who drove his car into front of store under influence of marijuna. The judge indicated he was addicted to marijuana, and George was sentenced to jail time.

    From the internet: “Question: How Does Marijuana Affect Driving?
    Answer: Marijuana has serious harmful effects on the skills required to drive safely: alertness, the ability to concentrate, coordination, and the ability to react quickly. These effects can last up to 24 hours after smoking marijuana. Marijuana use can make it difficult to judge distances and react to signals and sounds on the road.

    Marijuana may play a role in car accidents. In one study conducted in Memphis, TN, researchers found that, of 150 reckless drivers who were tested for drugs at the arrest scene, 33 percent tested positive for marijuana, and 12 percent tested positive for both marijuana and cocaine.

    Data have also shown that while smoking marijuana, people show the same lack of coordination on standard “drunk driver” tests as do people who have had too much to drink.”

  20. Don Shor

    “From internet:”

    Could you please provide your source when you post something verbatim?

    “The judge indicated he was addicted to marijuana.”

    The judge is not an expert on the physiology of addiction.

    *Here we are, as a nation, trying to get our kids off of cigarettes, only to turn them on to smoking marijuana.
    So you advocate criminalizing cigarettes?

    very few young people use other drugs without first trying marijuana, alcohol, or tobacco.

    So it should be illegal for young people to use marijuana, just as it is illegal for them to use alcohol and tobacco. The proposition on the upcoming ballot does that.

    Now how does something become habit forming, but not addictive?

    Compulsive behavior doesn’t necessarily have a physiological basis.

  21. Frankly

    “Now how does something become habit forming, but not addictive? “

    Elaine: Here is something that show marijuana to cause less dependency issues than caffeine: http://drugwarfacts.org/cms/?q=node/28

    Related to the “gateway drug” theory. The studies for this were done years ago. According to friend of mine that smoked it during the 60s and 70s and today, they say marijuana was nowhere near as strong back then. These are people that have done other recreational drugs and now only smoke pot. They say there is no reason to do any more dangerous drugs because there are so many new strains of pot that provide a different and strong high. See here for an example of the variety of different seed hybrids. I watched a documentary on legalized marijuana in Amsterdam and the pot bars had as many choices as a beer pub has beer choices. I don’t have experience with any of this, but I mention this point to others that do and typically I get the “that is a valid point” response.

    It is possible that by legalizing pot, and spending drug enforcement money on the more dangerous drugs like meth, crack, and heroin, we might be doing a good thing for many people and for society.

  22. E Roberts Musser

    Don Shor: “Could you please provide your source when you post something verbatim?”

    Sorry about that – been at the computer too long today. DPD has certainly hit on a number of very interesting issues! Here is the link:
    http://alcoholism.about.com/cs/pot/f/mjp_faq07.htm

    erm: “Now how does something become habit forming, but not addictive?”

    Don Shor: “Compulsive behavior doesn’t necessarily have a physiological basis.”

    Webster’s Dictionary: “habit – an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary: ADDICTION”

    Don Shor: “So you advocate criminalizing cigarettes?”

    Now that is an interesting question. My mom had an allergy to cigarette smoke, and had to suffer all her life while both her parents smoked like chimneys. I’m not sure if I would go as far as outlawing cigarettes although I’d like to, but certainly a concerted campaign to discourage smoking is in order. My gosh, the car racing industry was allowing cigarette companies to pass out free cigarettes to kids at racing events. And I certainly don’t want anyone to be exposed to second hand smoke either. But those already addicted need to be “grandfathered in” so to speak. It’s a hard habit to break. But let’s discourage our kids from getting hooked on cigarettes. And I certainly don’t want to encourage kids to start smoking pot – Egads! How will that be helpful to their future? It can only harm them…

  23. Frankly

    One point… I think if law enforcement was able to prevent access to marijuana, I would not be an advocate of legalization. I don’t care so much what adults do except for the expense they cause others, but, I do care that kids have access to things that can damage them before they develop adult judgement. However, kids already have access to all the pot they want. This has been confirmed by my kids and every other kid I talk to. So, kids have easy access even though we are spending billions to prevent it. It is obvious that we are wasting billions. Time to try another approach. Legalize it, tax it, and use tax revenue to educate people about it. Then work to prevent acces to truly dangerous drugs.

  24. E Roberts Musser

    Jeff Boone: “Elaine: Here is something that show marijuana to cause less dependency issues than caffeine: http://drugwarfacts.org/cms/?q=node/28

    NIDA did research you are referring to. Check out this from their website:
    “Not surprisingly, marijuana intoxication can cause distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty in thinking and problem solving, and problems with learning and memory. Research has shown that marijuana’s adverse impact on learning and memory can last for days or weeks after the acute effects of the drug wear off.2 As a result, someone who smokes marijuana every day may be functioning at a suboptimal intellectual level all of the time.

    Research on the long-term effects of marijuana abuse indicates some changes in the brain similar to those seen after long-term abuse of other major drugs. For example, cannabinoid withdrawal in chronically exposed animals leads to an increase in the activation of the stress-response system3 and changes in the activity of nerve cells containing dopamine.4 Dopamine neurons are involved in the regulation of motivation and reward, and are directly or indirectly affected by all drugs of abuse.

    Addictive Potential
    Long-term marijuana abuse can lead to addiction; that is, compulsive drug seeking and abuse despite its known harmful effects upon social functioning in the context of family, school, work, and recreational activities. Long-term marijuana abusers trying to quit report irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and drug craving, all of which make it difficult to quit. These withdrawal symptoms begin within about 1 day following abstinence, peak at 2–3 days, and subside within 1 or 2 weeks following drug cessation.5

    Marijuana and Mental Health
    A number of studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and schizophrenia. Some of these studies have shown age at first use to be a factor, where early use is a marker of vulnerability to later problems. However, at this time, it is not clear whether marijuana use causes mental problems, exacerbates them, or is used in attempt to self-medicate symptoms already in existence. Chronic marijuana use, especially in a very young person, may also be a marker of risk for mental illnesses, including addiction, stemming from genetic or environmental vulnerabilities, such as early exposure to stress or violence. At the present time, the strongest evidence links marijuana use and schizophrenia and/or related disorders.6 High doses of marijuana can produce an acute psychotic reaction; in addition, use of the drug may trigger the onset or relapse of schizophrenia in vulnerable individuals.

    What Other Adverse Effect Does Marijuana Have on Health?
    Effects on the Heart
    Marijuana increases heart rate by 20–100 percent shortly after smoking; this effect can last up to 3 hours. In one study, it was estimated that marijuana users have a 4.8-fold increase in the risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking the drug.7 This may be due to the increased heart rate as well as effects of marijuana on heart rhythms, causing palpitations and arrhythmias. This risk may be greater in aging populations or those with cardiac vulnerabilities.

  25. E Roberts Musser

    Effects on the Lungs
    Numerous studies have shown marijuana smoke to contain carcinogens and to be an irritant to the lungs. In fact, marijuana smoke contains 50–70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke. Marijuana users usually inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than tobacco smokers do, which further increase the lungs’ exposure to carcinogenic smoke. Marijuana smokers show dysregulated growth of epithelial cells in their lung tissue, which could lead to cancer;8 however, a recent case-controlled study found no positive associations between marijuana use and lung, upper respiratory, or upper digestive tract cancers.9 Thus, the link between marijuana smoking and these cancers remains unsubstantiated at this time.

    Nonetheless, marijuana smokers can have many of the same respiratory problems as tobacco smokers, such as daily cough and phlegm production, more frequent acute chest illness, and a heightened risk of lung infections. A study of 450 individuals found that people who smoke marijuana frequently but do not smoke tobacco have more health problems and miss more days of work than nonsmokers.10 Many of the extra sick days among the marijuana smokers in the study were for respiratory illnesses.

    Effects on Daily Life
    Research clearly demonstrates that marijuana has the potential to cause problems in daily life or make a person’s existing problems worse. In one study, heavy marijuana abusers reported that the drug impaired several important measures of life achievement including physical and mental health, cognitive abilities, social life, and career status.11 Several studies associate workers’ marijuana smoking with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims, and job turnover.”

  26. E Roberts Musser

    Jeff Boone: “One point… I think if law enforcement was able to prevent access to marijuana, I would not be an advocate of legalization. I don’t care so much what adults do except for the expense they cause others, but, I do care that kids have access to things that can damage them before they develop adult judgement. However, kids already have access to all the pot they want. This has been confirmed by my kids and every other kid I talk to. So, kids have easy access even though we are spending billions to prevent it. It is obvious that we are wasting billions. Time to try another approach. Legalize it, tax it, and use tax revenue to educate people about it. Then work to prevent acces to truly dangerous drugs.”

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one 🙂

  27. Don Shor

    Sorry, Elaine, but none of the information you are posting leads logically to a policy of criminalization of marijuana. Moreover, all of the adverse effects of marijuana you list are significantly worse for alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana is a drug. People use it. Criminalizing it doesn’t work, and a criminal record is very harmful to a young adult. So it is long past time to legalize use of marijuana for adults.

  28. Frankly

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one

    I can do that and also respect your different opinions.

    It is a dilemma. I had an employee years ago who lived in Stockton and said 2/3 his extended family had records for drug possession and the rest were in prison for dealing. I said “I bet you wish drugs were legalized?” He surprised me by saying “no, not even pot because all they would do is smoke it all day and not worry about being busted.” I remember that and it influences my opinion a bit, but the the libertarian in me wants adults to be responsible for their own actions. Kids are a different issue, but again, I cannot objectively make the case for why alcohol should be legal and a naturally growing weed with no worse, and potentially fewer, health and social risks, should be illegal.

  29. E Roberts Musser

    Don Shor: “Sorry, Elaine, but none of the information you are posting leads logically to a policy of criminalization of marijuana. Moreover, all of the adverse effects of marijuana you list are significantly worse for alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana is a drug. People use it. Criminalizing it doesn’t work, and a criminal record is very harmful to a young adult. So it is long past time to legalize use of marijuana for adults.”

    Decriminalize marijuana because “people use it”? Now there’s a good reason – NOT!!! We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one 🙂

  30. E Roberts Musser

    Jeff Boone: ” Kids are a different issue, but again, I cannot objectively make the case for why alcohol should be legal and a naturally growing weed with no worse, and potentially fewer, health and social risks, should be illegal.”

    So legalizing marijuana and adding it to the already admittedly toxic mix of alcohol and tobacco is going to help society? Explain the logic there…

  31. Frankly

    So legalizing marijuana and adding it to the already admittedly toxic mix of alcohol and tobacco is going to help society? Explain the logic there

    As a parent and a teacher, I’m sure you recognize the value and purpose of consistency when setting rules. Combine that with the fact that we are a country based on the primary rule of freedom to pursue life liberty and happiness. Then add cost and failure of law enforcement.

    In terms of the consistency argument… My kids seem my wife and I have a cocktail or two most nights before or after dinner. I smoke a cigar every now and then. Our family has the sad and unfortunate experience of having a loved one who took his own life after drinking enough alcohol to have done the job had it not been for the fact that his body was already used to consuming copious amounts of it. He had kept his excessive drinking a secret. I have other distant relatives and friends whose lives have been damaged or cut short by either cigarettes or alcohol. Considering these things and the fact that marijuana has been determined no more harmful… and arguments can be made that it is less harmful and potentially beneficial… how can I honestly and objectively explain pot illegality to any young person? I cannot. The laws are inconsistent.

    Related to freedom to pursue life liberty and happiness… First, I don’t know anybody in my circle of family and friends that has been seriously damaged by pot smoking. Believe it or not, there are more stories of this drug being helpful than harmful. For example, one couple I know… the wife had a hysterectomy and very difficult menopause and it wiped out her sex drive and it was causing some marital problems. Their doctor suggested the wife try marijuana and apparently it worked for her. My mother died of brain cancer about 2 years ago and we gave her candy that contained THC (prescribed by a doctor… but we would have tried this even if it had not been prescribed) and it helped give her an appetite while she was struggling through chemo and radiation treatment. I have a good friend that was depressed and prone to anxiety and he claims that smoking marijuana helped him think deeply about himself and solve some of his personal dilemmas while also calming his anxiety. I know people that cannot drink alcohol for health reasons, but can smoke marijuana. Lastly, I know people that like getting high on pot every now and then and do so responsibly.

    On the cost argument… We spend hundreds of billions but it is not preventing the consumption of marijuana. The consumption will grow higher with legalization, but I don’t think the marginal difference is worth the cost in dollars and the cost of human misery and suffering. I certainly have a concern about kids having access to this drug, but they already do, so I am in favor of investing in education and intervention programs instead of law enforcement.

    One definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing expecting a different result. With our efforts to try and keep pot illegal, I think we are a bit insane.

  32. Frankly

    As soon as the anti-legalization crowd starts to speak up for criminalizing tobacco and alcohol, they will stop being hypocritical

    Agreed, but I didn’t want to suggest that for fear of having the smoking police confiscate my bar and my collection of great cigars!

  33. wdf1

    I agree with Jeff. It’s hard to argue strongly for keeping pot illegal and not also use the same arguments to make a case for alcohol prohibition. What makes pot different from alcohol that it should be illegal?

  34. Frankly

    More than 850,000 people were arrested for marijuana violations in 2009 — the second biggest haul in American history, according to the annual Uniform Crime Report released by the FBI Wednesday. Despite the increased enforcement, however, marijuana use rose in the past year, according to the National Survey On Drug Use and Health released Thursday by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

  35. Don Shor

    Marijuana use in the United States, 2008 survey, ages 12+:

    Ever used: 102.40 million (41.0%)

    Used in the last year: 25.77 million (10.3%)

    Used in the last month: 15.02 million (6.1%)

    (National Survey on Drug Use and Health 2008)

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