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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 disease? 

     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.        

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