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Opinion: Should marijuana be legal?

Nick Lingerfelt and Isaac O. Weston

Tennessee Republicans and Democrats have introduced bills this legislative session that would legalize marijuana for medical use and also decriminalize it all together. Many states across the country have already legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use. Columnists Nick Lingerfelt and Isaac O. Weston share their opinions on whether or not marijuana should be legalized.

Nick Lingerfelt: There is no good reason not to legalize marijuana

Throughout our history as a country, marijuana and its use have been associated with hippies and the counterculture, but in recent years we have learned cannabis and its use are not as harmful as once believed, if not providing some health benefits.

Before I launch into why cannabis should be legal for recreational use everywhere, it has already been legalized for various uses and decriminalized in many states across the United States. The recreational use of marijuana is legal in 10 states and the District of Columbia. It is legal for medical use in 23 states, including our neighbor Arkansas. It is legal for medical use with limited THC content in our own state, Tennessee, as well as 12 others. It is only prohibited for any use in Idaho, North Dakota and Nebraska, but it is decriminalized in Nebraska. So really, 48 out of the 50 states have lessened the laws restricting marijuana already.

Marijuana is no more harmful to one’s health than alcohol and cigarettes, which are both widely used and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Marijuana also has been shown to have some health benefits. A January 2017 review from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found patients who were treated with cannabis are more likely to experience a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms. It also found smoking marijuana did not increase the likelihood for lung, head and neck cancers in adults. In adults with multiple sclerosis-related spasticity, which is when one’s muscles feel stiff and are difficult to move, short-term use of oral cannabinoids improved patient-reported spasticity symptoms.

A February 2017 review from Clinical Psychology Review found cannabis has potential for the treatment of PTSD and substance use disorders and cannabis use does not appear to increase risk of harm to self or others.

In June 2018, the FDA approved the use of a medication containing cannabidiol (CBD) to treat two rare, severe and specific types of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, that are difficult to control with other types of medication.

Many health professionals and organizations, like the American Cancer Society, have not written off cannabis and cannabinoids for cancer-related uses but have said more testing is needed to correctly assess their potential benefits or drawbacks as a form of treatment.

Colorado was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana in 2012. In 2015, Colorado collected more than $135 million in taxes and fees on medical and recreational marijuana. Sales in the state totaled over $996 million. A report from the Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Institute of Cannabis Research found the legal cannabis industry has contributed more than $58 million to their local economy, primarily through taxes and other fees. If marijuana became legal on the federal level, a 2018 report from cannabis analytics company New Frontier suggests legal pot could generate an additional $105.6 billion in federal tax revenue and 1 million new jobs by 2025.

In the end, cannabis does not pose more of a threat to our society than alcohol, tobacco or other drugs, so there is really no reason why it should not be legalized.

Isaac O. Weston: Marijuana: Good for the bank, bad for the brain

First it was Colorado on Nov. 6, 2012. Later that month, Washington joined the club. By 2016, seven more states plus Washington, D.C., had all legalized marijuana for recreational use. Although the legalization and decriminalization of the plant have led to more profits for state governments, the health risk has also increased. Now, other states are faced with this dilemma: Is the reward from the public worth the risk to the public? I say, “Absolutely not!â€

“Heavy-smoking teens show evidence of reduced activity in brain circuits critical for flagging newsworthy experiences,†said neuroscientist and Bucknell University psychology professor Judith Grisel on May 25, 2018, in The Washington Post. “(These same teens) are 60 percent less likely to graduate from high school and are at substantially increased risk for heroin addiction and alcoholism,†Grisel went on to say in her perspective piece titled “Pot Holes.â€

Grisel, who was an avid pot-smoker throughout her adolescent years but has been sober since 1986, claims she is not against marijuana legalization, but has directed her fight towards ignorance of the drug’s health effects. 

Whether or not to legalize weed is the wrong question,†Grisel said. “The right one is: How will growing use of delta-9-THC affect individuals and communities?â€

Studies have concluded that marijuana, although not as severe as heroin, cocaine or even some pharmaceutical drugs, is highly addictive, but this addiction does not stop at cannabis. 

“The brain adapts to marijuana as it does to all abused drugs, and these neural adjustments lead to tolerance, dependence and craving, the hallmarks of addiction,†Grisel said. 

Because of what this habitual usage does to your brain, pot smokers are at risk to jump into alcohol and other drugs. But the most detrimental part is, like alcoholism, an addiction to marijuana can be passed down to offspring, Grisel said. This makes the children genetically predisposed to becoming addicts and can also lead to an increased risk for mental illness and addiction.

Grisel hasn’t been the only person voicing how marijuana acts as a conduit to more addictions. According to a National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) article from June 2018, “Some research suggests that marijuana use is likely to precede use of other licit and illicit substances and the development of addiction to other substances.â€Â 

To affirm this, NIDA ran a survey on adults using marijuana. 

The survey concluded “adults who reported marijuana use during the first wave of the survey were more likely than adults who did not use marijuana to develop an alcohol use disorder within 3 years; people who used marijuana and already had an alcohol use disorder at the outset were at greater risk of their alcohol use disorder worsening.â€Â 

To be fair, marijuana as the main “gateway drug†to “harder substances†is not speaking for the majority of users, according to the article, but even if marijuana never leads to other addictions for someone, it still decreases reactivity in the brain and increases the vulnerability to addiction. 

Colorado Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana for recreational use, was implemented on Jan. 1, 2014. In the last five years, the sale of recreational and medical marijuana has funneled nearly $2.3 billion to the pockets of state legislators. I applaud Colorado for designating funds to public housing, public education and park conservation. According to Denver’s ABC affiliate, Colorado has seen economic milestones since Amendment 64 was passed, including more money for public housing, public education, and park conservation.

But like any policy, there is always a downside. Here are the facts, according to both CNN and Snopes: Since weed was legalized in Colorado, crime rates have increased at a rate over twice the percentage of the national average, fatal car crashes have increased at a rate nearly double what they started at when weed was first legalized and homelessness has increased drastically since substance abusers are migrating to Colorado for “easy access to pot.â€

So, knowing what we know now about what marijuana does to the user’s brain, the user’s future children, the life of the user and the state in which it’s practiced, I am even more positive legalizing marijuana for the sake of making the state more money is not worth compromising well-being of its citizens.

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