To the Editor:
When I first started doing research on this issue months ago, the thing that struck me most was how so many people in the prevention community seemed to be giving up because ballot question 3 was polling high to pass. In our state house, once the ballot question was legally in place, despite the fact that the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Executive Branch could have amended it, no one did proposed legislation to do so. The deadline came and went for amendment. This meant that there was no legislative over site to any portion of the citizen written legislation, not even the rushed implementation date of January 1st 2013. No committee or state agency got any impute. Even the agency that will be in charge of implementation, Public Health, got no opportunity to weigh in professionally.
As I walked out from attending my first public forum on the issue I was sadly struck by how “so called” polls effect us and the way we as a society create public policy. At that forum a state elected official did proclaim to those present, that the ballot question was bad public policy. I completely agree. But to be more precise is it popular public policy following examples in other states and fueled by the 35 billion dollar medical marijuana industry in our country who obviously stands to gain a lot as state by state falls prey to a broken political system ever endangering public health and public safety. To me this is a matter of public health and public safety.
In the other states that have legalized and deregulated marijuana for medical use, we now see hard data as to the negative social impact. The “street price” of marijuana and other drugs goes down which promotes more use and in particular more youth using at younger ages, crime increases, insurance costs rise, property values slip, impaired citizens operating vehicles, public use of drugs which sends a dangerous message to our youth, increase, police work loads increase which inhibits public safety delivery of service, municipal budgets and other services are effected, and in some cases whole communities going down hill. These are a few overt examples.
For our youth, who I believe we adults should protect and provide safe municipal environments for, there is even more danger. We now know that substances effect the developing brain (generally considered up to the age of 25) differently from a developed brain and can produce life time problems such as learning deficiencies, lost I.Q and a host of other health and welfare issues. We see and increase in youth psychosis as American youth continue to use marijuana younger and younger. One startling statistic is that if a person uses marijuana or other brain altering substances in their youth, their changes of becoming addicted to a substance increase substantially.
In the commonwealth since we decriminalized 1 oz. of weed four years ago we are seeing social negatives and clearly an increase in younger kids using marijuana. That was also a citizen led legislation that passed in November 2008. Our state has rising numbers for youth drug use and especially marijuana. We were in fact the first state in 30 years to decriminalize. One surprising fact I have recently learned is that when we did that all intervention that did exist through the criminal justice system disappeared. Just like the current ballot question 3, implementation for decriminalization of 1 oz of weed went into effect a mere two months after the vote with no implementation or enforcement plan. We sent the message with that legislation that weed is not that bad for you. We can fine people for 1 oz. but there is no enforcement methodology.
The same will be true for ballot question 3. The ballot question is short on details but if it passes it will make it mandatory to establish Medical Marijuana Clinics in each county. A doctor will not have to write a prescription but merely sign a “recommendation” that the holder of a card can purchase weed products. People can grow a 6 month supply if they live “too far” from a clinic but there is no value to what a 6 month supply is or even a specific as to what “too far” means. In other states crime in private areas where private supplies are being grown naturally has risen. And each and every case where there is a question about a person and their medical marijuana use is concerned, police will have to investigate. Naturally there is every possibility that private growing and personal uses will spill over into criminal drug activity. We can see this in the 1 oz. legislation. It sounds like a tiny amount but in fact it is about 20 joints. Those can be sold and exchanged and sadly among our youth that type of activity has been occurring in our state during the past 4 years. So much so that the recorded perception for marijuana use among youth is that everyone does it and it is no big deal.
These marijuana decisions are being forced on states I believe because the Federal Government is not doing it’s job. This is the only drug ever to be hoisted upon the public without going through the Food and Drug Administration. Why is that? As the Massachusetts Medical Association states in the declaration against Ballot question 3, they would like to study marijuana but can’t because of the federal classification. If there is something in weed that is exceptional for medical use, let’s discover exactly what it is. Why are innocent people’s lives being effected by horrendous public policy about a drug that will remain illegal by federal standards in the name of antidotal information?
If ballot question 3 passes marijuana will still be an illegal drug. The commonwealth may loose some federal funding for higher education for example. Where is the line to be drawn in consideration of the federal law that it is illegal? Look at the other states like California that have legalized medical marijuana and you will see that the line is very thin. Look at Los Angeles that now has over 1000 marijuana clinics. Look at the CA statistic that show only 2% of medical marijuana card carries in CA have a debilitating disease. The average card user is 32 years old with a drug background.
One young man in attendance at a recent forum about medical marijuana who happened to be from Colorado put it this way. “In my state when we legalized medical marijuana, more marijuana in general hit the streets at lightening speed.” That is what will happen here. And we have the added stress of having decriminalized 1 oz. 4 years ago. Our marijuana problem is already a growing one. Don’t think it won’t get even worse if ballot question 3 passes. Vote it down and force our state and federal governments to create good public policy. Put public health and public safety for all first. And please consider our youth. Marijuana use in any community is a community issue. If we continue to send the message that this is a harmless and even helpful substance we are risking the future.
Sandwich Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force member