Pubdate: Sat, 17 Nov 2012
Source: Daily Courier, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2012 The Okanagan Valley Group of Newspapers
Author: Ted Swart


Washington and Colorado recently passed referendums on legalizing the 
recreational use of marijuana.

This is probably a harbinger of the future on the grounds that the 
advantages of legalization outweigh the disadvantages. Since we do 
not have the intestinal fortitude to follow in the footsteps of 
Singapore, such legalization may well be much closer than we think. 
Unfortunately, planning for a world in which marijuana has been 
legalized seems to be hopelessly flawed.

Those who are strongly in favour of legalization are in the habit if 
comparing the use of marijuana to that of alcohol, but this parallel 
is extremely misleading. The preferred method of imbibing THC is to 
smoke marijuana. There are therefore many reasons for comparing 
marijuana usage to tobacco use.

In both cases, the active ingredient - nicotine or THC - is not a 
naturally occurring chemical in the human body, and it is quite 
unlike alcohol, which is present in the human body even if we do not 
drink alcoholic beverages.

This being the case, it makes good sense to copy, as much as we can, 
the steps that have been successfully taken to reduce tobacco smoking.

The advertising of cigarettes has been banned, cigarette smoking in 
public places is largely prohibited, cigarettes cannot be sold to 
minors and, when they are sold to adults, they have to be accompanied 
by warnings of the potentially lethal consequences of smoking. So, if 
marijuana usage is legalized, it is important to ensure that its 
marketing and sale to the public is handled in a similar manner.

Moreover, smoking marijuana not only harms our lungs, but has a 
deleterious effect on our brains. A recent long-term study in the 
U.K. shows those who smoked marijuana extensively during their 
teenage years damaged their brains and ended up in later life with 
significantly lower IQs than non-smokers. The fact is smoking 
marijuana does at least as much harm to us as smoking tobacco and is 
probably even more damaging.

Those who do not know the facts might find the marijuana fact sheet 
at well worth reading.

Although the deleterious effects of smoking marijuana have a good 
deal of overlap with smoking tobacco, this does not mean there is no 
overlap with alcohol. Being intoxicated by drinking too much or being 
on a THC high while driving make it impossible to drive safely. So we 
had better make sure that, if and when marijuana is legalized, being 
under the influence of THC is treated just as seriously as drunk driving.

There needs to be a method of checking for THC levels in the body 
just as we check alcohol levels using a breathalyser.

There is nothing sensible or admirable in damaging our bodies and 
almost certainly our brains by smoking marijuana. Any supposed right 
to smoke it needs to be balanced by the freedom of the rest of us to 
be protected from its ricochet effects. We may well end up in a worse 
situation than is currently the case.

The legalization process should be used to bring about a reduction in 
the use of marijuana, since it is a dangerous substance.

We now know that tobacco companies were highly immoral in their 
attempts to burnish the image of smoking, downplay its harmful 
effects and chemically enhance its addictive properties. We all have 
friends or family members who died untimely deaths due to lung 
cancer. So we must ensure the process of transitioning from 
illegality to legality emphasizes the harm marijuana does and 
involves a concerted effort to reduce the number of smokers.

Ted Swart, Kelowna
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