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Should Connecticut Legalize Recreational Marijuana?

May 30, 2019

Across America, recreational marijuana is legal in 10 states, and medical marijuana is legal in 33 states. Connecticut is a state where medical marijuana is legal, but the use of the drug for recreational purposes is still illegal. According to The CT Mirror, it became clear in a House Democratic caucus meeting on Monday, May 20 that legislators do not have the votes necessary to advance a proposal for the recreational use of the drug in our state. This has been a long-standing debate, and there are valid arguments for both the legalization and the stagnation of the law which would keep it illegal. Two of our editors went head to head on the issue.

For the Legalization of Marijuana

As a long time emblem for counter-culture, spiritual enlightenment, and laid-back Long Beach teens, marijuana has become a household name, sitting as one of the most well-known drugs around the world. Amidst its popularity, the stigmas surrounding marijuana trail closely behind it, involving its links to inept youth, its power as a gateway drug, and its danger to the health of the public. While only parts of these stipulations are true, the public often forgets the beneficial qualities marijuana possess, both medicinally and economically, and how much less detrimental it is than its opioid counterparts.

The criminalization of marijuana has lead to unequal incarceration and an increase in stigmas surrounding its users. With the legalization of marijuana, we would begin to reverse the stereotypes and corrupt judicial process that has been built around the legality of the drug and move to create a healthier and safer system surrounding the distribution, possession and use of marijuana.

The Current System of Marijuana Incrimination Is Broken

By legalizing the drug, we will be taking a step forward to reduce racial targeting and create a more proficient policing system. The war on marijuana has heightened racial disadvantages. As of 2010, a black person in America was almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person was. Depending on county and state, “blacks are 8, 10, or even 15 times more likely to be arrested,”   said the American Civil Liberties Union.

The rates are much lower for White Americans, even with near equal usage rates amongst races. With the usage and sale of marijuana still standing as a crime in America, minorities are at a disadvantage. The criminalization of weed can be used as a gateway for unequal rates of imprisonment amongst races.

Laws don’t serve much purpose if a majority of Americans are not being charged for breaking them. As of 2012, of all federal prison inmates charged for a marijuana-related crime, “59 percent were Hispanic or Latino and 13.9 percent black or African American according to a 2015 Bureau of Justice Statistics analysis,” said in a 2017 article from Newsweek.

Charges are not taken as seriously as they may seem to be. Why are people who are being caught with possession of weed not going to jail? Do police and judges not believe these people should do time? If our own legal system does not push for the incrimination of those who use or possess marijuana, then why should it be illegal?

In 2017, only 92 people were sentenced in the federal system for marijuana possession, out of the near total 20,000 drug convictions, but out of all of the drug possession charges, marijuana possession made up 43 percent of all of the drug possession cases according to Justice Department data. The ACLU has also said that on top of its unfairness, “the war on marijuana is a colossal waste of resources, with states spending billions of dollars and devoting thousands of hours of police work to it.”

Illegal Drug Cartel Will Take a Hit

In legalizing marijuana, we see less of a market for external weed purchases. Across America, legislators have already been making the push towards legalization. So far, it is legal for adults over 21 in 10 states and is medically legal in 33. The legal marijuana industry has grown 74 percent in 2014 to $2.7 billion, says ArcView (a cannabis investment and research firm).

“Coinciding with legalization, violence has decreased in Mexico. Homicides hit a high in 2011, with Mexican police departments reporting almost 23,000 murders. Last year, they reported 15,649,” said a 2015 Times article on Mexican drug cartels.

With the legalization of marijuana, the need for external purchases of the drug may decrease, and while that could pose a threat to America’s streets, it could still hinder illegal drug cartel in surrounding countries and save thousands of lives in the process.

What’s the Real Harm in Weed?

A drug like marijuana is significantly less harmful than most drugs available on the market both legally and illegally. Marijuana, and more specifically its component CBD, is used to treat pain for millions of patients in a America, and a wide-ranging survey done in California has shown that 92 percent of users can attest to marijuana working.

While standing as a fact widely recognized by most of the public, many still ignore that while marijuana related deaths occur, it is impossible to overdose on it. This makes it non-lethal in respect to its chemical composition.

Pharmaceuticals are allowed to profit off of marijuana while it remains illegal and criminalized for the rest of Americans. According to the CDC, 46 people die every day from overdoses involving prescription opioids.  In 2017, the CDC recorded that prescription opioids played a part in more than 35 percent of all opioid overdose deaths.

While they profit off of opioids that cause tens of thousands of overdoses a year, marijuana remains illegal and criminalized. It’s unfair to incarcerate Americans for a near harmless drug when prescriptions have caused the population far more harm.

Aside from other drugs, many legal substances are still recorded to be more deadly than marijuana by large margins. Alcohol, for example, has caused more deaths, more violence, and more overall destruction in America than marijuana ever has, yet it’s still legally sold for profit. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reported that alcohol stands as a factor in 40 percent of all violent crimes in the United States. This includes 37 percent of rapes and 27 percent of aggravated assaults.

A 2015 article from the New York Times compared the impacts of marijuana vs alcohol from a pediatricians standpoint. Out of all college students who have been under the influence of alcohol each year: about 600,000 are injured, almost 700,000 are assaulted, almost 100,000 are sexually assaulted, about 400,000 have unprotected sex, 100,000 are too drunk to know if they consented, and more than 1,800 die. “The numbers for pot aren’t even in the same league,” said the article.

Legalization Will Reduce Stigmas and Help Drug Users.

When we stop labeling marijuana users, and more specifically chronic users, as criminals, we create a country where recovery and life after abuse is possible. The decriminalization aspect of making marijuana legal will give people lives after chronic use, and while an excess use of marijuana may not necessarily affect users health, abuse is abuse.

Drug abuse, including the abuse of marijuana, is a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Treating people who have chronic and problematic usage of a drug as criminals does nothing for them. With the reform of criminalization laws of marijuana, people can get the help they need.  

“Even for individuals who are never incarcerated, collateral consequences that flow from arrests and convictions—such as lost jobs, ineligibility for public housing, suspended driver’s licenses, and restrictions on access to federal student loans—can significantly derail lives. “A ‘criminal history’ built on minor marijuana convictions can categorize defendants as ‘career criminals’ for sentencing purposes in subsequent cases, thereby triggering harsh mandatory sentences,” said the ACLU.

Currently, users of marijuana who were charged with possession still suffer from their track record. The Drug Policy Alliance Headquarters said the “number of students who have lost federal financial aid eligibility because of a drug conviction is more than 200,000.”

How can we expect people to recover and move on when we label them as criminals and continue to hold their past against them?

Addiction is tricky, but with any addictive substance the risk of it happening is always there. In legalizing weed, more people would be welcomed to speak more freely about marijuana usage and get help in the case of addiction. Countries around the world have tested the legalization waters by first decriminalizing drugs, and they have already begun to see success. Portugal has adopted the decriminalization of drugs in their judiciary system: “It’s cheaper to treat people than to incarcerate them,” says sociologist Nuno Capaz.

“If I come across someone who wants my help, I’m in a much better position to provide it than a judge would ever be. Simple as that.” Capaz’s team of 10 counselors handles all of Lisbon’s roughly 2,500 drug cases a year. That’s a 75 percent drop since the 90’s.

Psychologists, therapists, recovery centers and more would be provided for people who suffer from marijuana abuse. They will be able to recover and move on instead of doing their time and continue on a possible path of destruction.

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Against the Legalization of Marijuana

Smoking Pot Presents a Clear Threat to Users

Marijuana is potentially addictive. Although cannabis might not be physiologically addictive, its effects can still be linked to some form of dependence following long-term consumption, according to Royal Queen Seeds, a cannabis seed producer. This is because of the relationship cannabis has with a chemical in our brain called dopamine. In recent decades, research has found that addiction to drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine is because of dependence on dopamine according to David Hirschman of Big Think, which aims to be an online platform where experts can weigh in on current issues.

Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, says that the way the brain becomes addicted to a drug is correlated to the drug increasing levels of naturally-occurring dopamine, which modulates the brain’s ability to perceive reward reinforcement. The pleasure sensation that the brain gets when dopamine levels are elevated creates the motivation for us to proactively perform actions that are indispensable to our survival (like eating or procreation).

Decreases in dopamine function are observed during drug withdrawal, including cannabis-withdrawal syndrome. Despite misconceptions that cannabis is unique from other drugs of abuse, cannabis exerts identical effects on the dopamine system according to Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine.

Younger people tend to have more easily addictive personalities. Teenage rats have a much stronger reaction in the brain region involved in habit-formation after they receive a reward. By comparing the brain’s response to a food reward in adult and teen rats, researchers have pinpointed some differences that might explain why adolescents take more risks and are more prone to addiction, depression, and schizophrenia according to Jennifer Welsh of Live Science, a science news website.

Marijuana use has been linked to Psychosis. You know the feeling you get when you’re high? That calming feeling—like for a moment you’re disconnected from reality? That feeling can get out of control the more you get high.

Over the past decade, multiple studies have shown that marijuana use in adolescence can be a contributing factor in triggering or worsening the symptoms of serious psychotic mental illnesses, most notably schizophrenia. Young people with a predisposition to developing a psychotic illness may be drawn to pot at an earlier age than other adolescents according to Juliann Garey of Child Mind Institute, a research organization.

We are not suggesting that smoking pot causes schizophrenia, but both heavy use and an increase in use from occasional to daily — as well as earlier and longer exposure to pot — have been linked to psychosis.

“Evidence suggests that pot smoking can lead to earlier onset — that it can develop it sooner than it would have otherwise,” says Dr. Birnbaum, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Northwell Health. “Pot is also associated with [the] development of illness in otherwise healthy individuals, meaning it is possible that psychosis would not have developed in that person if they had never smoked pot . . . Although these may be triggered by pot use, discontinuing the usage of pot will not stop the symptoms. If pot turns on that switch, it’s not something that can be easily turned off,”  said Dr. Birnbaum.

Any smoke inhalation increases the risk of lung cancer. Marijuana smoke, like cigarette smoke, contains known carcinogens. There is considerable evidence that cigarette smoking is related to lung cancer and many other health hazards. It took decades to demonstrate this. The widespread use of marijuana for recreational uses is a relatively new phenomenon. With time and more research, marijuana smoke may very well prove to be as lethal as cigarette smoke according to Garey.

Decriminalization Puts the Safety of Non-Users in Jeopardy

Marijuana may increase a user’s likelihood of participating in violent behavior. A 50-year study finds a link between cannabis and subsequent violent behavior. New research from Psychological Medicine, a medical journal, concludes that continued use of cannabis causes violent behavior as a direct result of changes in brain function that are caused by smoking marijuana over many years.

The study, called the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development, was done with 411 boys born around 1953 living in working-class urban neighborhoods of London, 97 percent of whom were Caucasian and all of whom were raised in two-parent households. The researchers noted other factors, including antisocial traits as assessed by the Antisocial Personality Scale, alcohol use, other drug use, cigarette smoking, mental illnesses, and family history.

Most of the participants never used cannabis and they were never reported to have violent behavior.  38% of the participants did try cannabis at least once in their life. Most of them experimented with cannabis in their teens, but then stopped using it. 20% of the boys who started using pot by age 18 continued to use it through middle age (32-48 years).  Additionally, 22 percent of those who were pot smokers reported violent behavior that began after beginning to use cannabis, whereas only 0.3 percent reported violence before using marijuana.

Continued use of cannabis over the lifetime of the study was the strongest predictor of violent convictions, even when the other factors that contribute to violent behavior were considered in the statistical analysis.

The results show that continued cannabis use is associated with 7-times greater odds for the subsequent commission of violent crimes.  The authors suggest that impairments in neurological circuits controlling behavior may underlie impulsive, violent behavior, as a result of cannabis altering the normal neural functioning in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex.

Where marijuana is legal, there will likely be more people Driving Under the Influence (DUI). You probably know that drunk driving is a problem. “Driving Under the Influence” can also come in the form of driving while high, which is becoming an issue in states that have decriminalized recreational marijuana use. When you are high, your judgment is passively impaired. You can’t be trusted to make responsible decisions.

In Colorado, where pot sales began in 2014, 69 percent of pot users said they had driven while high at least once in the past year and 27 percent said they drove stoned almost daily, according to preliminary survey results released by that state’s transportation department in April. The number of fatal car accidents in Colorado increased by 40 percent from 2013 to 2015. Drivers in fatal accidents testing positive for pot rose by 145 percent from 2013 to 2016, according to a 2017 Denver Post analysis.

In Washington state, where pot sales began in July 2014, 20 percent of those driving during the daytime are high, up from less than 10 percent before legalization, a state survey found. And the number of motorists who tested positive for both alcohol and drugs following a fatal crash has increased 15 percent every year since 2012, according to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

Marilyn Huestis, a toxicologist and adjunct professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine said that It’s important for the public to recognize that marijuana does impair driving, Huestis said. The drug affects the way people drive in two major ways. One way is by affecting two regions of the brain — the cerebellum and basal ganglia — that are involved in planning and controlling the muscle movements. Such movements are needed to control a car during driving. “When you’re driving, you need to stay in your lane, but cannabis increases weaving within a lane,” Huestis said.

People are affected by marijuana differently so it is difficult to test for. When you are pulled over for drinking in Connecticut, you are given a breathalyzer that tests the amount of alcohol in your system. You cannot test marijuana this way.

Recent research clearly shows that the levels of marijuana’s active compound, called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), don’t line up in a straightforward way with how impaired people are, according to the paper, published in the journal Trends in Molecular Medicine.  In other words, your level of impairment doesn’t depend on the amount of weed you’ve smoked.

If someone takes an edible, it will not be detectable on your breath.

Additionally, research has shown that THC is unlike alcohol, which dissolves in water and is therefore easy to flush from the body. People who use marijuana frequently may have large amounts of THC stored in their tissues, and so no test for THC can distinguish whether someone smoked marijuana today or a month ago, according to Huestis.

A Society Infiltrated by Marijuana (A New Drug) Is Not Ideal

It is very hard to repeal laws after they have been passed. Why can’t we criminalize alcohol, which is regularly regarded as more dangerous than marijuana? We are used to it. We all know that Prohibition was extremely unpopular with the American population.

Another example of our inability to repeal something potentially harmful is the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA has many flaws including rising premiums for plans sold in state marketplaces, high deductibles, and burdensome taxes. But, according to Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post, the law has expanded health insurance coverage to roughly 20 million Americans.

Tom Susman, a Charleston-based strategist, says the issue is more serious than those opposed would like to think. “If you don’t have a replacement, then you do serious damage … you hurt people.”

Of course, marijuana doesn’t provide healthcare to millions of people. In fact, marijuana has not been used long enough for us to know the long-term harms of public use. We do not want to evoke irreversible damage. We haven’t been able to do research on the effects of marijuana. If it is too dangerous to investigate its effects, why isn’t it too dangerous to legalize?

In states where it is legal, marijuana legalization has not had the economic benefits it was supposed to have. One year after marijuana was legalized in California, sales are down, tax revenues are below forecasts, and the black market is thriving.

Around $2.5 billion of legal cannabis was sold in California in 2018, half a billion dollars less than in 2017 when only medical marijuana was legal, according to GreenEdge, a sales tracking company.

California produced a massive surplus of marijuana — the state produces far more pot than it can consume. In basic economic terms, this means that the only way to sell all of it is to drive prices down to levels that likely will not make the producers profit (which is especially likely when you consider the taxes they face).

According to Thomas Fuller of the New York Times, The tons of extra cannabis continues to leech out of California into states where it is illegal.

“The bottom line is that there’s always been a robust illicit market in California — and it’s still there,” said Tom Adams of BDS Analytics, which tracks the cannabis market. “Regulators ignored that and thought they could go straight into an incredibly strict and high-tax environment.”

Think about it, if smoking pot becomes legal, you will probably continue using a black market pot dealer. You could continue using going to your pot dealer who you have built a relationship with and you trust, and the marijuana may even be cheaper than that sold by the government because it isn’t taxable — why would you stop going to that person?

The government should protect its people. Aristotle believed that the government should be a reflection of the ideal society and should promote virtuous moral judgment. People often do not think ahead to the consequences of their actions and just because people make bad decisions doesn’t mean we should just accept it and start regulating people’s exposure.

Why bow down to the short-sighted, self-destructive will of humans?

It is clear that legalizing anything makes it much more prevalent in society simply because it is more accessible. What is good about having more people use an addictive, risky substance?

Another unintended effect is that making something more prevalent allows it to end up more easily in the hands of kids.

According to Headset, a research company, the data suggest that smokers in the customer loyalty program while customers range from ages 21 to 95, over 50 percent of loyalty members are under 40.

When the FDA decided to ease regulations on vaporizers, we saw an exponential increase in teen usage. We do not want the same thing to happen with marijuana.

Some people argue for freedom of choice but we have these freedoms to an extent: if your freedoms inhibit someone else from their freedoms they become dangerous and are therefore illegal and undesirable in a free society.

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