REEFER MADNESS: FACT OR FICTION?
By George Guevara
The United States has many
challenges and faces a number of problems, which, like our drug problem,
are not susceptible to easy solutions and short-term fixes. Should we
just remove fences from our borders or post signs saying we’ve given up
and invite a tide of immigrants in? Should we stand up and shout that
our education system has been a failure and give our children permanent
vacations? Should we throw up our hands in frustration about AIDS and
stop searching for a cure? Of course not. We are committed to solving
problems, not running from them. Why should our commitment to stopping
drugs be any different?
Furthermore, we should ask
these proponents of legalization just what they want legalized. Just
marijuana? Heroin? Cocaine? PCP? All drugs? And for what age
category? Will prescriptions be necessary? Will children be able to
buy drugs? And what will they tolerate as a price of legalization?
Will a 30 percent increase in the number of traffic fatalities be
acceptable? Would they be happy with the fact that their daycare
provided has been smoking legally purchased marijuana? How about the
school bus driver? Maybe the doctor doing surgery? What about social
and health aspects? Legalization of drugs sends a message that drug use
(like alcohol and tobacco) is acceptable and encourages use among people
who currently do not use drugs. When the social taboos about premarital
sex were removed, the illegitimate birth rate skyrocketed. We are now
paying the price. What about long-term treatment for drug-related
Will the alleged profits from
drug legalization be enough to pay for the increased fetal defects, loss
of work force productivity? How about increased traffic fatalities and
industrial accidents and increased domestic violence? These and many
others that would not only result in higher taxes, but more importantly,
what about our social decay? Just how much are we willing to pay? Dr.
William Olson, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for
international narcotics matters, outlined the magnitude of the costs
borne now by taxpayers because of drugs in a 1994 essay:
25-60 percent of the homeless are
addicts, whose homelessness is in large part of the result of addiction
and their inability to manage money or make rational, reasonable
decisions. They are increasingly supported at public expense.
75-80 percent of the 1.2 to 1.5
million teen-age runaways are substance abusers, and not because
prohibition made them use drugs or run away.
As many as 11 percent of the young
mothers use drugs during pregnancy.
2.5 percent of all live births,
some 100,000 babies, are born addicted to cocaine. They have lifelong
learning disabilities and emotional problems.
$50 billion (that’s with a ‘B’) is
devoted annually to dealing with the health care costs of drug addiction
and its collateral costs.
I believe these statistics
are compelling and those who advocate drug legalization should be
looking at the big picture rather than their emotional argument. Let’s
just talk about marijuana, for those who don’t feel that ‘weed’ is a
hard drug and won’t hurt ‘anybody’. In a Maryland Trauma Center study
(ending 1986), 32 percent of the drivers treated at the Shock Trauma
Center had used marijuana prior to their crashes. A University of
Tennessee study (1988) showed that 40 percent of drivers treated at the
Trauma Center for crash injuries had drugs other than alcohol in them.
Among college students surveyed in 1990, nearly half (49.1 percent)
indicated they had used marijuana during their lifetimes.
It is often suggested that
substances like marijuana could be used to relieve suffering to sick
people. Medical use arguments can gain public support because they seem
harmless enough to the uninformed audience. The medical pros and cons
of prescribing marijuana to sick people are best debated by medical
professionals. It should be kept in mind, however, that marijuana has
been rejected as medicine by the American Medical Society, the American
Glaucoma Society, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the
International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Society and The American
Cancer Society. Not one American Health Association accepts marijuana
as a “medicine.” Statements issued by these organizations express their
concern over the harmful effects of the drugs and over the lack of solid
research demonstrating that they might do more good than harm.
Let’s look at the possible
effects of marijuana (cannabis) intoxication. People under the
influence of marijuana simply seem to not pay attention, or to have very
brief attention spans. In particular, they do not divide their
attention very successfully. This, for instance, at least in the area
of driving a motor vehicle, can make them a very unsafe driver, since
driving requires the ability to divide attention among many simultaneous
tasks. Studies have shown that people under the influence of marijuana
may attend to one or few of these tasks, but simply ignore the others.
We also need to include
impaired perception of time and distance, disorientation and body
tremors. Generally, a person is “high” from marijuana, depending on the
amount smoked and on the concentration of the THC (the primary
psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) for three to six hours. Being that
there is no quality control when it comes to buying dope from a dope
dealer on the street, a person will never really know what they are
getting. A Stanford University study shows airline pilots have
difficulty in holding patterns and in lining up with runways for up to
24 hours after using marijuana (this was just a test, the pilots were
not flying real jets, just using a simulator).
Some long-term effects of
marijuana use include: Lung damage, chronic bronchitis, possible birth
defects, still births and infant deaths, acute anxiety attacks, chronic
reduction of attention span and disorientation.
Lastly, for the argument that
law enforcement is overworked. Sure, but the proponents of drug
legalization should find out what law enforcement officers are handling
out there in the streets. Neighborhood disputes, domestic violence,
incorrigible kids and theft. Many of the persons are under the
influence of a drug, which includes the legal drug of alcohol. This
doesn’t even count those violations for driving under the influence of
alcohol and for drugs.