Legalizing Marijuana

In November, California voters will decide whether to fully legalize marijuana (Proposition 19). The state has already legalized marijuana use for medical purposes. If the latest proposition is passed, the main benefit would be the decriminalization of marijuana together with a steep drop in prices that would make trafficking the drug unattractive to criminal elements, and there would be some state income from taxes. The main personal advantage would be that it will be much easier and cheaper to get high.

The disadvantages, however, are significant. Decreased social inhibitions mean an increase in risky behavior, leading to more accidents. And there are health risks similar to tobacco. Marijuana has toxic elements, like cyanide and tar that is higher than in cigarettes; it causes mouth cancer; it increases pressure on the heart and narrows arteries in the brain, reducing cognitive abilities; and there is more. As with tobacco and alcohol, the taxes are nowhere near enough to cover the health and safety costs to society.

Significant loss of cognitive abilities by long-term marijuana users was brought home to me as a college professor.

When I was teaching freshman English, I noticed a pattern among some of the argumentative essays. They were characterized by a curious but complete inability to present a cogent, reasonable argument. Since a number of the essays in this group advocated (poorly) the legalization of marijuana, I referred to these failures as the “pothead” essays.

One day when I was with a student who had written a classic “pothead” essay, though not on marijuana, I decided on an experiment. I said, “Would you mind if I asked you a personal question?” He answered, no. So I said, “How long have you been smoking pot?” A large smile spread over his face. “How did you know?! I’ve been smoking it since I was thirteen and it hasn’t affected me one single bit.” Well, my friend, it had! I had deduced that he was a hardened user from the essay he turned in.

California voters have not always voted in their best interests, so there is an excellent chance that Proposition 19 will pass this November. More is the pity. We are still struggling with the impact and costs of smoking. Legalizing marijuana will only increase the load on society.