Joel Rice

Union County Progressives/Democrats

F our states including Oregon, have fully legalized recreational marijuana use, and many states have bills in the works to follow suit. According to the PEW Research Center, in 1969, 84 percent of Americans believed that marijuana should be illegal while only 12 percent thought it should be legal. In 2017, only 37 percent of Americans believed that marijuana should be illegal and 61 percent believed that it should be legal.

More than half of Americans have tried marijuana and of those, more than 70 percent believe that recreational use should be legal (see Marist Study). Canada is in the process of legalizing marijuana nationwide.

Despite the world’s most aggressive and most expensive ($1 trillion as of 2012) “war on drugs,” the United States has arguably the worst drug addiction problem of any developed country in the world. We have the highest drug use death rate of any major developed country (worldlifeexpectancy.com.) We have the highest opioid/opiate use of any country in the world if you include painkillers. We have the highest marijuana use of any developed country behind Iceland (Wiki). Of developed countries, only New Zealand and Australia have higher illicit stimulant (methamphetamine, etc.) use rates than the United States (Wiki). We have the highest prescription stimulant use of any country in the world, and it is likely that as much as a third of these prescriptions are diverted for recreational use (healthaffairs.org.)

We simply cannot afford to continue the path of fighting addiction by punishing the offenders, even if that may be helpful in individual cases. It is too expensive and it may be making the problem worse. The backfire effect is a name for the finding that, given evidence against their beliefs and behaviors, people can reject the evidence and believe or act even more strongly. It is possible that the “war on drugs” is simply backfiring, creating the most addicted culture on the planet.

Portugal had Europe’s highest drug use and overdose rates in 2001 when they decriminalized all drugs including heroin, methamphetamine, etc. and focused on treatment instead. Since that time, the overdose death rates have dropped to the lowest in Europe, six per million residents, while the United States’ death by overdose rate remains 52 times higher at 312 per million residents (nytimes.com/2017/09/22.)

Marijuana is moderately addictive. It slows reaction time and impairs memory. Marijuana use, like alcohol use, is strongly associated with impaired learning and can lead to higher dropout rates from high school and college. It is associated with a lower IQ among individuals who start using marijuana at a young age. While marijuana can cause chronic diseases such as Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome, it does not appear to have anywhere near the disease-promoting effects found with alcohol and nicotine. Our understanding of marijuana has been dangerously handicapped by government regulation of research and the plant itself, yet we know that certain cannabinoids (CBD primarily) can be used in the treatment of psychosis, pain, nausea etc. (NIDA).

In summary, marijuana is not one drug, but many drugs, none of which are more dangerous or worrisome than alcohol or nicotine with the possibility of considerable medical benefit. The “war on drugs” including marijuana in the United States has backfired, creating the most drug-addicted civilization of all time. It is time we stop the “war on drugs,” treat addiction when it occurs and legalize marijuana. We also need to educate our young people without stimulating a “backfire effect” and regulate use for those younger than 21 as we do with alcohol and tobacco.

There is nothing to be accomplished by preventing the sale of “recreational” marijuana in La Grande. It is symbolic only and by the backfire effect is likely to create more interest in young people, not less. There is, however, something to be accomplished by educating our young people openly and honestly.

Editor’s note: The Union County Republicans could not find a writer to discuss the marijuana topic this week.

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