Pubdate: Wed, 23 May 2012
Source: Herald-Dispatch, The (Huntington, WV)
Copyright: 2012 The Herald-Dispatch
Author: Diane W. Mufson
Note: Diane W. Mufson is a licensed psychologist. She is a former 
citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch editorial board and a regular 
contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page.


Most of us can agree that drug abuse is a serious problem. We have 
all seen the dreadful things that heroin, crack, "meth" and other 
hard street drugs have done to individuals, families and society.

As a result we tend to place all illegal drugs into dangerous and 
destructive categories. Yet until the recent prescription drug abuse 
era, we treated legally approved drugs as always beneficial or 
desirable. The "oxy" generation woke us up.

Yet, our laws still consider using any amount of marijuana as a 
dangerous activity, worthy of prison sentences. It is time to 
re-evaluate decriminalization of marijuana.

One of the strongest arguments against legalizing marijuana is that 
it is a "gateway" drug. People who try marijuana will then go on to 
use harder drugs.

For some this is true. Like alcoholics, people with a tendency to 
become addicted to substances seek out drugs and addictive 
substances. The fallacy of the "gateway" theory can be related to 
today's "pain pill" demand as having been started by Tylenol. Not so.

All types of highly addictive "pain pills" are prescribed frequently. 
But medical marijuana, considered controversial, is now legal in 16 
states and Washington D.C.; it is highly effective for serious pain. 
Eventually, legalization of medical marijuana will spread to other 
states and may be the first step in decriminalizing this substance.

Last year various news sources noted that U.S. Reps. Barney Frank, 
D-Mass., a clear liberal, and Ron Paul, R-Texas, anything but 
liberal, planned to introduce a bill to remove marijuana from the 
list of federally controlled substances and eliminate criminal 
penalties. As with alcohol, they preferred the states to regulate marijuana.

While there is no chance that such a bill would pass Congress (even 
vital and basically non-controversial bills can't get through this 
Congress), it does show that more politicians are recognizing that 
changes should be made in marijuana laws.

The present laws and views about marijuana are similar to those 
regarding prohibition almost a century ago. Making alcohol illegal 
proved a boon for gangsters and the underworld. Legalizing it was a 
bonus for businesses and taxes.

Alcohol, while very much a part of our social and economic fabric, 
still has negatives. Some people become addicted to it; others do 
dreadful things while under its influence.

Our prisons are full of people charged with drug offenses, some of 
them minor. We need better ways of preventing drug abuse, but it is a 
waste of resources to lock up those using small amounts of marijuana.

Being a mother of three, married and working during the age of free 
love and drugs, I missed experience with marijuana. Therefore, 
re-evaluating the legality of marijuana is not a personal issue, but 
rather one of reality.

Almost every study on drug usage in this country says that the 
four-decade-old "war on drugs" is not working. The National Drug 
Control Policy Office indicated that in the past few years our 
government has spent close to $15 billion fighting drug problems.

I am not advocating marijuana usage and recognize that using it is 
not risk free. But then neither is excess use of most other 
substances we consume. We must educate youth about the dangers of 
legal and illegal drugs as well as alcohol and prescription drugs.

Like alcohol, use of marijuana can yield problems, but changing the 
legal status of this drug means our country will have more energy and 
funding to cope with more serious drug issues.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom