Editorial: Experimenting with drugs

Marijuana's legalization spurs spate of unanswered policy questions

Sometimes it pays to show up late to the game.

That’s a prudent policy when it comes to legalizing marijuana, something other states have done in recent years.

Georgia – one of two-dozen states where marijuana is still totally illegal – has an advantageous view from the sidelines, where it can observe the social and economic impacts of legalization before entering the fray.

State leaders, including Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, have indicated an openness to discuss legalization amid growing public support. A recent poll conducted by InsiderAdvantage for Atlanta’s WAGA-TV and Morris News Service showed 51 percent of the state’s registered voters support legalization for medical purposes.

President Obama recently – also, incredibly and irresponsibly – told The New Yorker magazine that he considers the drug to be a bad habit but no more dangerous than alcohol.

He should have checked with the government’s own National Institute on Drug Abuse, which has long reported that marijuana causes permanent brain damage among adolescents, including lowering their IQs.

And the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is part of the White House, has repeatedly pointed out that marijuana smoke has more carcinogens than tobacco smoke.

“Taxpayers have spent billions of dollars warning about drugs, often about marijuana, but these efforts were dramatically undercut by the president’s comments,” former U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook wrote in Tuesday’s Washington Times.

The president also appears to favor legalization efforts, telling the magazine that “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”

Though the drug has been legal for medicinal use in California since 1996, similar laws on the books in most other states are much more recent. Only two states – Colorado and Washington – render marijuana possession completely legal for people 21 and older.

Even Obama said – in a masterpiece of understatement – the legalization experiment in those two states “is going to be, I think, a challenge.”

But honestly – what are the costs, both real and hidden, in allowing the widespread availability of yet another mind-altering drug, particularly one whose primary form of ingestion is through smoking?

With all the alcohol, prescription pain killers and anti-depressants already in use (and too often abused), does a society already losing moral focus and educational acuity really need another legalized drug that negatively affects the brain?

Another nagging issue: Marijuana still is prohibited under federal law. Although the Obama administration has been reluctant to enforce federal law in states where pot has been decriminalized, what about future administrations? The marijuana debate inevitably will have to go national.

As an illegal substance, many states dealt with marijuana in a very simple and straightforward manner: You don’t use it, sell it or possess it. End of story.

But as a legal, regulated product, states will find themselves addressing a host of public policy issues, including secondhand smoke. When can you smoke in public? What about smoking at home with young children in the house? Should blowing psychoactive secondhand smoke in a house occupied by a child be considered abuse or endangerment?

Will there be a marijuana “legal limit” when driving a car? That’s important to consider when you realize the drug is detectable in your system for weeks or sometimes longer.

Or say you’re in a public place and you accidentally breathe someone’s secondhand marijuana smoke. You later test positive on a drug screen, and are penalized for the results, either by law enforcement or your employer. Who’s the real guilty party here?

Laws will be written, debated, passed, enacted and possibly later changed. It will not be easy, and mistakes will be made. But Georgia has the benefit of learning from those mistakes likely to strengthen the argument to keep marijuana illegal.

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