Pubdate: Sun, 18 Nov 2012
Source: News-Item, The (PA)
Copyright: 2012 The News Item
Author: Mark Gilger


Voter Change in Wash., Colo. Raises Issue Here

Local law enforcement authorities believe the recent decision by 
voters in Washington and Colorado to legalize recreational use of 
marijuana is a big mistake that will only lead to more problems.

They hope the drug never becomes legal in Pennsylvania.

"I can see using marijuana for medical purposes if it's controlled," 
said Shamokin Police Chief Edward Griffiths. "But to me, that's the 
only potential benefit."

He wonders where it stops. What's the next drug that's made legal?

"I just think it would have a negative, snowball effect on everyone, 
especially police and the court system," he said.

Griffiths said studies have revealed many people who start out using 
marijuana end up becoming addicted to more potent drugs like cocaine, 
heroin or even synthetic drugs, such as bath salts. "We won't solve 
anything by legalizing marijuana," said Mount Carmel Police Chief 
Todd Owens, who also serves as a field supervisor for the 
Northumberland Montour Drug Task Force.

He added, "There's always going to be people trying to circumvent the 
law, and I believe legalizing marijuana will only create other problems."

Owens understands marijuana can offer relief to people suffering from 
illnesses, including cancer. But he said regulating its use is where 
the problem lies.

"People go to states now where marijuana is legal for medical 
purposes and purchase the drug before bringing it back to 
Pennsylvania and selling it on the streets," he said. "Many people 
also warehouse the drug before selling it in larger quantities."

Owens believes legalizing marijuana will "overtax" police, the court 
system, hospitals and other public service entities because it will 
be a "nightmare" to regulate and enforce.

"I think it's a terrible idea to even consider," Owens said. "There's 
just no justification to doing it."

Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini doesn't believe 
marijuana should be legalized in Pennsylvania, but thinks it belongs 
in another category for controlled substances.

"By law, marijuana is identified as a schedule I controlled 
substance, but state legislators need to reclassify it, because it's 
not as serious as other narcotics like heroin," he said.

He said his department spends a lot of time and money prosecuting 
marijuana cases that could be better spent investigating more potent 
drugs that are more of a danger to society.

"We need to focus more on drugs that can cause serious injury or 
death, and destroy a community," he said.

While Rosini's office investigates its share of marijuana cases, the 
majority of drug case investigations in recent years have involved 
cocaine, heroin and prescription drugs abuse.

It's a 'gateway'

Glenda Bonetti, director of the Northumberland County Drug and 
Alcohol Program, is not a proponent of legalizing marijuana, although 
she, too, acknowledges its medical benefits.

"Marijuana can increase an ill person's appetite and allow them to 
function better, but I don't ever want to see it legalized in 
Pennsylvania because it would only cause more problems," she said.

Bonetti said a large portion of the clientele treated by her 
department entered into the program after using marijuana. She said 
the majority of marijuana users are adolescents.

"Marijuana is a gateway that leads people to become addicted to more 
serious drugs," Bonetti said. "Some of our clients began using 
marijuana at age 12."

Marijuana: 2nd on list

During the 2011-12 fiscal year that ended June 30, Bonetti said the 
drug and alcohol program served 414 clients, including 298 males and 
116 females. The majority of the clients were under the age of 30. 
She said most of the clients underwent treatment for alcohol problems 
involving DUI-related incidents. Bonetti said marijuana was the next 
largest problem, with opiate and heroin users coming in third.

Out of the 414 clients treated, 175 were between the ages of 19 and 
29. Eighty-five clients between the ages of 30 and 39 were the next 
highest group.

Bonetti said 75 of the 414 clients were treated for marijuana addiction.

Between July 1 and the middle of November, approximately 150 clients 
have received treatment through the county drug and alcohol program.
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