Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

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January 9, 2009

A Clear and Present Danger

Marijuana and the Marginalization of Prevention

Nov. 19, 2008 — Dealing a blow to years of work and recent gains in youth drug prevention, Massachusetts has joined a growing, but still short, list of states to decriminalize marijuana possession. At least that is the intention of some 65 percent of voters checking "Yes" on a ballot initiative that makes possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil offense (punishable by a ticket) as opposed to a criminal one. And this on the same day that the same voters approved a ban on greyhound racing.

Protect the dogs but throw the kids under the bus. Go figure.

Indeed, opponents of the ballot initiative Ð which include state constitutional officers, district attorneys, police chiefs, ministers, school superintendents, and major newspapers Ð say, "We believe that efforts to legalize drugs of any kind represent the wrong direction for Massachusetts and put our children, our families, and our communities at risk."

For its part, the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, which backed the measure, points proudly to the monetary savings for police departments, never mind the total national economic cost of drug abuse of $254.8 billion in 2008 or the obvious cost shifting to an already overburdened health care system. For example, Massachusetts' Coalition for Safe Streets says that marijuana is already a primary factor in juvenile ER admissions.

And emergency department episodes involving marijuana almost tripled from 1994 to 2002, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which reports that marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in America. In fact, of all youth ages 12-17 in drug treatment in 2000, nearly 62 percent had a primary marijuana diagnosis.

But dollars don't equal sense in this equation. What really matters is the health and safety of our children.

Marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke, increasing the risk of chronic cough, bronchitis, and emphysema, as well as cancer of the head, neck, and lungs. It also leads to changes in the brain similar to those caused by cocaine and heroin.

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