Why I Am Against Legalized Marijuana

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During the first few days of the new year, the news reports were replete with articles and stories about Colorado becoming the most recent state to legalize the sale of marijuana. Washington legalized the sale of marijuana several months ago. It appears that Alaska, Oregon and California may be next.

I now understand that my view is in the minority. Gallup reported in the Fall that a majority of Americans (58%) support legalizing marijuana. A decade ago, only 32% were in favor; in 1969 (Gallup’s first poll on this question), only 12% supported legalization.

I am against this trend. I am also against legalizing gambling. And I wish the laws about alcohol and tobacco sales were stiffened or at least enforced. But lest you think this blog is simply about morality and ethics, my reasoning is fundamentally educational.

A recent op ed piece by Ruth Marcus from the Washington Post alerted me to recent studies published by the American Medical Association (AMA), the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Academy of Sciences. The results are alarming.

According to the research of the AMA, “heavy cannabis use in adolescence causes persistent impairments of neurocognitive performance and IQ, and use is associated with increased rates of anxiety, mood, and psychotic thought disorder.” College students exhibit these behaviors more and more and they always impact their ability to be successful academically.

The AMA report also provides data revealing that marijuana is the most common drug associated with drugged driving, especially with drivers under 21. Further, use of cannabis “is related to later substance abuse disorders.”

One of the reports I read in early January emphasized that the new Colorado law (and the Washington law) restricts the sale of marijuana to those over 21. But the research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse details what those of us on college campuses already know. According to their studies, nearly half of all children have tried marijuana before graduating from high school. In fact, 16.5% of eighth graders have tried marijuana. Even more concerning, only 40% of 12th graders believe that there is a risk in regular use of marijuana (that percentage was 58% only two years ago).

The study published by the National Academy of Sciences is more detailed. The study was completed in 2012 and involved the study of over 1,000 New Zealanders from birth to age 38. The most salient findings are as follows:

-       “Persistent cannabis use was associated with neuropsychological decline broadly across domains of functioning, even after controlling for years of education.”

-       “Long term cannabis users saw an average decline of eight IQ points."

-       “The decrease in IQ was linked only to those with adolescent marijuana use, not those who started in adulthood.”

We can have the debate about the impact of alcohol, gambling and drugs on social behavior. We can have the debate about the rights of people to use these substances. But there is no debate that the use of marijuana (and alcohol and gambling) impact student academic success.

We try to educate students about these risks. Legalization just makes it more difficult. I vote “no.”

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Thursday, 31 July 2014