The have been a number of heated debates in various states throughout the nation on the subject of decriminalization of marijuana at the user level. Indeed, some states have legalized it despite the federal ban.
As of June 2015, 23 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana use to some degree, most of them in the arena of medically recommended marijuana.
Federal law, however, prohibits physicians from actually prescribing marijuana, essentially rendering those laws invalid.
Four states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. These are Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii.
Again, federal law prohibits recreational use, negating the state laws. Whether the federal government is willing to stand on its hind legs and enforce the federal ban remains to be seen.
Arguments persist, particularly by those who regularly use marijuana that the use of marijuana is no worse than the use of legal alcohol, and therefore should be legalized as well.
Truth be told, both of these substances are exceedingly harmful if abused or even occasionally used in excess.
Another argument at the fore is that smoking marijuana is no more harmful than smoking cigarettes.
Wrong. It is true that cigarette smoking is harmful to health, owing to the tars and addictive nicotine. It is also true that marijuana contains tars — 50 to 100 percent more than cigarettes. Consider that the harmful aspects of smoking one marijuana “joint” are equal to smoking seven to 10 cigarettes.
We have all read about or seen firsthand the catastrophes resulting from drunk-driving incidents, alcohol-fueled domestic violence and public affrays. Many of these result in property damage, physical harm and even death, regardless of which substance was abused and was the catalyst.
In January 2014, I contributed my opinion for an article written by Wendy Sledd, the Cove Herald editor at that time, addressing the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana.
It was presumed by some that legalization of pot would decrease police activity as it pertained to small-quantity arrests, thereby freeing the police to concentrate on other, more serious areas of policing.
I opined that legalization of pot would increase the number of intoxication contacts between the police and the public and in fact would neither decrease crime nor lessen jail over crowding.
Simply put, user-lever marijuana arrests would be replaced by user-lever intoxication arrests. There would be little change in police activity.
I also believe that legalization of marijuana would create more intoxicated drivers, increased domestic violence and other crimes of assault.
There are other areas of concern over and above the law enforcement issue.
One of these is a theory held in the law enforcement and drug and alcohol abuse communities known as the “Gateway Theory.”
It is believed and substantiated to some degree that the use of marijuana leads to the use and abuse of many other harmful drugs.
Studies have shown children ages 12 through 17 who have used marijuana are more than 80 percent more likely to try cocaine. The reasons for this are myriad.
Some users are self-persuaded to seek more intense highs. Others may try harder drugs in an effort to impress peers with their prowess and daring.
Marijuana usage has been linked to teen violence, criminal activity and even suicide.
Both marijuana and alcohol work to decrease inhibitions with an equal decrease in judgment.
Those under the influence of any intoxicant or mood-altering substance are less inhibited to perform acts and deeds they would not even consider doing when sober.
In the short term, marijuana usage can create effects, which include hallucinations, paranoia, psychotic episodes, mood swings and impaired coordination.
In the long term, pot usage has many of the same effects as tobacco (from the heavy doses of tar), including chronic bronchitis, vein and artery blockages and confused or slow thinking.
Add to these extras, long-term usage can also lead to decreased sexual drive. The risks far outweigh any pleasurable or euphoric effects of this drug.
John Vander WERFF is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, with a decade in city and county law enforcement and 20 years with state police.