Steve Rose

March 22, 2014

Legalized pot is too risky to consider for now

Before we jump on the bandwagon to legalize marijuana, let’s watch the experiments in Colorado and Washington. Let’s learn whether there is something to fear or not. I have already lived through one pot revolution. I am not ready to leap into another one.

Like most baby-boomers, I lived through the era before marijuana use was widespread. No one I knew in high school smoked pot, and even in my first couple years of college, it was very rare.

And then, almost overnight, I witnessed the revolutionary change — first in college, then in Vietnam, and especially at Woodstock, where a half million kids got high on pot, all in one historic gathering.

Though it was illegal, that didn’t stop the phenomenon. Pot smoking became a fact for millions of youth — not just hippies, but mainstream kids as well.

One might think that a generation that lived through this revolution would see no problem in taking it to the next step — legalization of marijuana. I cannot speak for a generation, but I have serious doubts about the wisdom of legalization.

As it stands, Kansas has a bill in the Legislature to make marijuana legal for medical purposes, just like 20 other states. From what I have seen in California and read about in other states, this is a joke. It’s just a thin guise for legal, recreational use. While marijuana appears to have legitimate medical benefits — particularly for those suffering from cancer — few if any states are able or willing to treat it like a real prescription drug.

On the other end of the spectrum, current marijuana laws in Kansas are among the most draconian in the nation. The possession of any amount can land you in prison for a year plus a $1,000 fine, and a second offense can mean 3 ½ years in prison and a $100,000 fine. Those penalties are absurd and need to be fixed.

Missouri will likely be facing a ballot initiative in 2016 to make pot legal for recreational purposes, much like voters in Colorado and Washington just passed. Polls show it will be close and may depend on who turns out to vote.

Nationally, it is an age issue.

While 72 percent of those under 30 believe marijuana should be legal, only 29 percent of those over 65 agree.

Count me with the “mature” folks. Despite what I have seen — or maybe because of it — I just could not vote yes on legalization.

Once pot becomes legal, consumption could increase. No one knows for sure.

That goes especially for teens who may see Dad and Mom puffing away on joints and ask, why not me, too? A joint or two now and then is probably no big deal. But it is a big deal if marijuana smoking becomes a major habit.

Recent studies have concluded that teenagers who smoke marijuana daily for three years had abnormal changes in their brain structure and performed poorly on memory tasks.

Will legalization lead to that kind of abuse? I don’t know, but why would we want to take the chance?

There have been plenty of medical studies that show long-term, heavy use of marijuana can lead to mood swings, anxiety, depression, memory loss, lethargy, even psychosis.

Of course, alcohol consumption can lead to its own harmful side-effects, and it’s legal. But it doesn’t follow that we should open up the gates to another substance that can be harmful over the long term.

Coming of age during the marijuana revolution meant I witnessed its effects on frequent and long-term users. I have seen true personality changes, and not for the better. My reaction to the marijuana movement is personal.

To be fair, I have a good friend who was a college professor until his recent retirement. He stayed stoned every day — with no apparent ill effects.

Furthermore, there may be true advantages to legalization. It could reduce the influence of drug cartels; it would slash incarcerations; and it could raise tax revenues. Colorado projects more than $100 million in taxes from marijuana sales in the first year.

But I say be cautious.

Before we jump on the bandwagon of legalization, let’s watch the experiments in Colorado and Washington. Let’s learn whether there is something to fear or not.

I have already lived through one pot revolution. I am not ready to leap into another one.

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