Diplomatic Notes

Marijuana law considerations

Recently, reports surfaced of preliminary recommendations on the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana. The recommendations are said to be as follows: decriminalization for up to one ounce; expungement of records for previous convictions falling within the new guidelines; legalization of medicinal marijuana for persons over the age of 18; and legalization of recreational use for persons over the age of 21.

Are these recommendations a good idea or are they problematic?

What are the benefits and drawbacks?

Is there a better alternative?

Let’s examine the issues and I will give my commentary. I do not have an issue with the legalization of medicinal marijuana as long as there is research confirming the medicinal value and effectiveness and that it is not used as a guise for recreational use. During my times in California, I have met several persons who had medicinal marijuana prescriptions and one in particular indicated that he could not make it without marijuana and it was the only thing that helped him with a serious injury suffered in a car accident. Another person who is a friend of mine essentially had a fabricated prescription that allowed him to smoke marijuana. I knew he had no real medical issue, but he was able to secure a prescription. I am in favor only if this type of abuse can be eliminated or minimized and if the medicine is the best option for the condition prescribed for. If medical marijuana is effective as a drug and the best treatment, I do not believe there should be an age restriction for prescriptions.

As far as decriminalization for up to an ounce, I am not in favor of total decriminalization. I believe it is important to maintain some level of deterrent to marijuana use. I believe it would be better to have a minor penalty that does not result in a police record, perhaps a fine of some type and counseling to ensure that persons consuming marijuana are informed of the negative effects of its use.

I do favor expungement for minor possession in order to allow persons negatively impacted to not be overly penalized and prevented from either work or travel opportunities. I have found that persons who have to undergo counseling have an opportunity to interact with counselors who can educate them from experience on the negatives of marijuana use and advise them about making the best choices. I have had the opportunity to counsel many young men and found that many were unaware of the real dangers of the drug. I have been able to use my extensive first-hand knowledge of marijuana to help many individuals and I believe exposure to proper education from the right persons is essential.

I believe we must remember that marijuana is a mind-altering drug that impairs judgement and has been proven to include negative side effects like marijuana-induced psychosis. We do not hear much about this in the rush to paint marijuana as a harmless drug, but marijuana can be very harmful psychologically in some cases. Again, I speak from a first-hand knowledge view as I have seen several friends who have suffered from this condition as a result of marijuana use. Marijuana is not harmless and outside of medicinal use it can be detrimental. I have also counseled many families and particularly young men who were otherwise productive and studious, and their drive and focus on education diminished with the onset of marijuana use. I have had numerous personal encounters with parents and teens and have many documented cases of the negative impact of marijuana. My personal experience has also borne this out.

There is also the criminal side of marijuana use and distribution. California legalized marijuana but the black market has actually increased and outsold the legitimate market. In fact, the legitimate market is being threatened with extinction by the black market according to a report from the New York times in April (”Getting Worse, Not Better: Illegal Pot Market Booming in California Despite Legalization”).

Here is an excerpt from the article: COSTA MESA, Calif. — In the forests of Northern California, raids by law enforcement officials continue to uncover illicit marijuana farms. In Southern California, hundreds of illegal delivery services and pot dispensaries, some of them registered as churches, serve a steady stream of customers. And in Mendocino County, north of San Francisco, the sheriff’s office recently raided an illegal cannabis production facility that was processing 500 pounds of marijuana a day.

It’s been a little more than a year since California legalized marijuana — the largest such experiment in the United States — but law enforcement officials say the unlicensed, illegal market is still thriving and, in some areas, has even expanded.

“There’s a lot of money to be made in the black market,” said Thomas D. Allman, the sheriff of Mendocino County, whose deputies seized cannabis oil worth more than $5 million in early April.

Legalization, Sheriff Allman said, “certainly didn’t put cops out of work”.

California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, has declared that illegal grows in Northern California “are getting worse, not better” and two months ago redeployed a contingent of National Guard troops stationed on the border with Mexico to go after illegal cannabis farms instead.

Legalization and regulations have not produced what it was purported to produce. In addition, crime has not gone down in most cities (Denver, Colorado; Oakland, California, etc.) that have decriminalized or legalized marijuana although arrest for minor possession resulted in lower arrest rates for the cities involved. Rates of use among underage teens increased substantially in some cities like Denver and hospital emergency room visits also increased particularly for minors who consumed both smoked and edible forms. The following has happened according to a study published by CBS broadcasting corporation and the Denver Post earlier this year:

• Colorado youth now rank number one in the nation for marijuana use and 74 percent higher than the national average.

• Colorado college-age group now rank number one in the nation for marijuana use and 62 percent higher than the national average.

• Colorado adults now rank number one in the nation for marijuana use and 104 percent higher than the national average.

In summation, I go back to a few questions I submitted when the issue first came up:

• Does decriminalization and or legalization result in a net benefit to our country and our people?

• Will the proposed law lead to better citizens who are more educated, and equipped for the future?

• Will decriminalization result in higher levels of consumption among underaged youth?

• Will increased marijuana result in better professional performance?

• Will it result in an improved society or harmed society from a medical and psychological perspective?

There is some obvious benefit if marijuana is the right medicine for conditions that are otherwise untreatable with other drugs. There is also benefit in eliminating criminal records for minor possession and eliminating incarceration for what would be considered minor crimes. I believe we need to carefully and objectively consider the ramifications of the proposed amendments to the law and be careful not to rush into a potential pitfall. It is interesting to note that as an expert in the field and former member of the National Drug Council, I was never consulted in this process. This may have been an oversight and I hope that it was. If not, I believe it was a mistake to not consult with persons who have extensive personal and professional knowledge on the subject such as myself.

• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to pastordaveburrows@hotmail.com. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.

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