Rutland Herald (December 30, 2015)
Arthur Peterson’s letter, “Pot legalization will hurt Vermont” (Dec. 24), is full of misinformation aimed at manipulating Vermont voters into taking action against legalization. We write to correct the key falsities on which he rests his case.
Mr. Peterson lists as facts several negative consequences pertaining to marijuana’s potential legalization in Vermont, most of which are dubious. For example, he writes, “Contrary to popular opinion, marijuana is an addictive drug. Up to one in six adolescents and one in 10 adults become addicted to pot.”
The facts of marijuana addiction remain in doubt. Whether or not regular marijuana use even qualifies as an addiction has been debated for decades. Are all addictions the same? Are we talking about physical or psychological addiction? Is marijuana addiction on par with heroin, opiates, alcohol and prescription drugs? Or addiction to shopping, television or smart phone use?
Most experts on the long-term effects of marijuana consumption agree that if dependency or “addiction” occurs with marijuana, it is far less serious than opiates, tobacco and alcohol (Scientific American, March 2012) and probably less dangerous health-wise than the sugar, salt and fat in America’s diet. Research on dependency places marijuana on par with caffeine (Drugwarfacts.org). Note to all you daily coffee drinkers — you might be caffeine addicts.
In short, marijuana is far safer than most drugs and rather than being an additional “vice,” as its opponents claim, it is a far safer and more responsible alternative to these more dangerous drugs. Why are legalization opponents so bothered by the notion of an adult using marijuana responsibly in the privacy of his or her home? It’s grossly unfair to punish adults who make the rational decision to consume marijuana, say, rather than alcohol.
Mr. Peterson writes that, “Legalization in Colorado has seen the incidence of pot use among teens 56 percent above the national average.” We tracked down this sensational statistic, and it comes from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a well-known anti-marijuana organization with statistics that critics have long seen as scientifically suspect and manipulated to achieve a political agenda designed to carry forth the war on drugs.
In fact, there’s a substantial body of research showing that teen pot use hasn’t risen in the states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana. In 2014, a year when marijuana was all over the news and national attitudes toward the drug were relaxing, teen use actually trended downward for marijuana, alcohol and cigarettes (University of Michigan and the National Institutes on Drug Abuse). However, given the liberalization across the nation and the developed world toward marijuana, its popularity among youth should not be surprising. An April 14, 2015, Pew Research Center Report finds that 68 percent of “Millennials” (currently 18-34) favor legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
Mr. Peterson cites as fact that “smoking marijuana introduces 50-70 percent more carcinogens into your lungs than smoking tobacco does,” inferring that smoking marijuana is far more dangerous than smoking cigarettes. However, the evidence is slim to none that marijuana is linked to cancer. Recent research has found no direct link to any of the cancers we associate with tobacco. And, in fact, the opposite may be true — medical researchers have speculated that marijuana may retard and slow the development of tumors and shows potential to treat cancer (American Cancer Society). To avoid the potential effects smoking may have on a consumer’s health, marijuana can be more safely consumed with a vaporizer, in beverages, or as food.
Furthermore, Mr. Peterson argues that because today’s marijuana is far more potent than marijuana used in the ’60s and ’70s, its THC level increasing from “1 percent … up to 14 percent, … makes the effect of a ‘high’ much worse.”
The claim that “this is not your grandfather’s marijuana” is greatly exaggerated. THC content in marijuana has always varied. Sensimillia, the potent seedless marijuana, has been available for decades. Today there is a wide range of potencies, especially in prepared medical marijuana. According to the University of Mississippi’s Potency Monitoring Project, the average potency of domestic marijuana in the U.S. has increased from an average of 1.7 percent in 1970 to 8.5 percent today. However, this does not translate into the consumer getting 8 times higher than in the 1970s. At higher THC concentrations, less marijuana is required to meet the desired effect of the consumer (PolitiFact.com). Besides, as in switching from beer to whiskey, this merely changes the nature of responsible use.
Mr. Peterson claims that legalization in Colorado has produced a number of negative consequences. He writes, “From 2013-2014, marijuana-related traffic deaths in Colorado increased 32 percent.” The fact is, traffic fatalities went down in 2014, according to data released by the Colorado Department of Transportation, a continuation of a 12-year-long downward trend and challenging claims that the legalization of marijuana would lead to an increase in traffic fatalities.
In Washington state, which legalized marijuana on Dec. 6, 2012, the number of traffic fatalities remained stable in the first year that adult possession was legalized. A February 2015 drug and alcohol crash risk study from the Department of Transportation found that, when adjusted for age, gender and alcohol use, there was no significant increase in the level of crash risk associated with the use of THC.
There are many other positive results of marijuana legalization in Colorado. According to data released by the city of Denver, since the legalization of marijuana, violent crime and property crime in Denver decreased in 2014. Violent crime in Denver went down by 2.2 percent in the first 11 months of 2014, compared with the first 11 months of 2013. In the same period, burglaries in Denver decreased by 9.5 percent, and overall property crime decreased by 8.9 percent.
Colorado state Department of Revenue data report that tax revenue from retail marijuana sales amounted to $40.9 million between January 2014 and October 2014, not including revenue from medical marijuana and licenses and fees. Of the marijuana tax revenue already collected, the Colorado Joint Budget Committee set aside $2.5 million to increase the number of health professionals in Colorado public schools, which suffered a shortage of school health workers because of 2011 budget cuts. Many of the new health workers, including nurses and social workers, will focus on mental health support and on programs to educate students about drug use.
Vermonters should be considering how to apply these findings to our own situation, not sweeping them aside. A word to wise Vermonters: Given the presence of the fear-mongering among us, we call for citizen action aimed at information-based marijuana policy. That is the only way to set legitimate limits to citizen liberty. Let’s call our representatives urging support for marijuana legalization.
Philip Lamy is a resident of Castleton.
Brendan Lalor is a resident of Rutland.
Pot legalization will hurt Vermont
With a vote in the Vermont Legislature looming over marijuana legalization, I think it is important for people to know some facts about marijuana and its dangers.
- Fact: Today’s marijuana is far more potent than marijuana used in the ’60s and ’70s. The THC (psychoactive ingredients) level in that early period was 1 percent; it is now up to 14 percent which makes the effect of a “high” much worse.
- Fact: Contrary to popular opinion marijuana is an addictive drug. Up to one in six adolescents and one in 10 adults become addicted to pot.
- Fact: Heavy marijuana use by adolescents lowers IQ by six to eight points.
- Fact: Legalization in Colorado has produced a number of negative consequences. The incidence of pot use among teens is 56 percent above the national average. From 2013-2014 marijuana-related traffic deaths in Colorado increased 32 percent.
- Fact: Marijuana use has harmful effects on the brain. It affects those portions of the brain that control memory, learning attention, and reaction time.
- Fact: There is strong evidence that legal marijuana will affect the health and safety of all Vermonters. Smoking marijuana introduces 50-70 percent more carcinogens into your lungs than smoking tobacco does. There is a known increase in the risk of mental illness, notably psychosis, depression, and schizophrenia. Using the Colorado example above, it is clear that there will be an increase in “stoned” drivers on our highways, making driving in Vermont less safe. Also the use of edible pot items, such as candy and cookies, have made their way to children who eat them and get sick.
- Fact: Many major Vermont groups are solidly opposed to legalization. Here is a list: American Medical Association (AMA), Vermont Police Association, Vermont Sheriffs Association, Vermont Medical Society, Associated Industries of Vermont, Vermont Firefighters Association, Prevention Works Vermont, Boys and Girls Club of Burlington, American Psychiatric Association, Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police, American Academy of Pediatrics, and several others.
Vermonters: Don’t let two misguided legislators, Senators Benning and White, who have sponsored this legalization bill, determine the future of our state. Contact your representatives today and tell them you are strongly opposed to legalization. Believe me, your voice counts. If you don’t know who your legislators are or how to contact them, look them up at http://legislature.vermont.gov/ and follow the prompts. It is the 11th hour and good people must act.