Opinion: Marijuana Legalization Is A Step In The Wrong Direction

I am from a tiny town that most people will never even hear of, much less visit. We sit on a little patch of nowhere in southwest Colorado where our identity is pulled between the desert and the mountains. 

It’s a town where people don’t usually visit, but drive through on their way to another destination. Despite its tiny, rough-around-the-edges feel, it was my home for so many years, and I love it for the memories it holds and for the family and friends who still live there.

When I go home today and drive down Main Street on my way to our family’s farmhouse out in the country, an unwelcome sight greets me. A large marijuana flag flies visible from most of the town and casting a dark shadow over our little pocket of Colorado.

It is crazy how much can change in nine years. In our town of 8,000 people, there are at least eight marijuana “pot” shops that have settled their roots into the desert soil – and they are not shy about broadcasting their presence.

Now, my hometown is a stop for those who wish to get the coveted high that Colorado has become known for. 

When marijuana became legalized in the state in 2012, it was unclear how the drug would affect the communities. Colorado was one of the first states to legalize the drug, thus becoming an experiment the nation eagerly watched.

Recreational use became legalized in 2014, and that is when the harmful effects started to show. Instead of marijuana being used just for medicinal purposes, it became a popular hobby and a social event.

Pot shops boast brightly colored signs that broadcasted marijuana desserts, candies, gummies and even suckers. Because these edibles look just like any other type of candy, it is very easy for underage individuals to acquire the drug and use it in plain sight. 

Thousands of people frequent Colorado’s pot shops daily, and it does not come without a cost. The New York Times reports that violent crime has risen in the state by 20% since the drug’s legalization. Colorado has become “the epicenter of black-market marijuana in the United States” even though marijuana is legal, according to Denver U.S. attorney Jason Dunn.

A recent study also shows that patients who are admitted into hospital emergency rooms due to a marijuana related incident were five times more likely to have mental health issues as reported cases of mental health problems have increased in the years following its legalization.

Additionally, the number of fatal car crashes involving drivers with marijuana in their system has also reported a sharp increase, according to the New York Times.

Marijuana was introduced as a “safe” drug, but it is anything but safe. It not only affects the health of its users, but it is destroying lives of the nation’s youth as well.

A study done by Andrew Plunk, PhD, showed a 10% increase in high school dropouts in states where marijuana is legalized. The study also showed that one in eight children between the ages of 12 and 17 have used marijuana in some capacity. 

Marijuana is detrimental to young minds that are still developing. In my own town.  I saw marijuana entangle people in its snare as multiple friends and talented athletes dropped out of school or got lost in the haze of drug use – ruining their lives for the foreseeable future.

I even grieved with my youth group after the loss of one of our members due to a drug overdose. While his overdose didn’t come from marijuana, his drug addiction started from messing around with marijuana with friends.

Marijuana impairs attention, memory and learning abilities in its users. The East Virginia Medical School writes that it causes long-term brain damage, specifically in its teenage users whose brains are still developing. 

Additionally, a scholarly article written by Arthur Williams reports that marijuana is also a gate-way drug that leads to users seeking a more sustainable or thrilling high after marijuana’s affects are no longer satisfactory.

It reduces cognitive function at a higher rate than alcohol which decreases an individual’s ability to learn. A study done by the East Virginia Medical School showed that young people who use marijuana consistently will eventually lose an average of 5.8 IQ points.

On July 1, 2021, Virginia will become the 16th state to legalize

the drug in the United States. The date was originally January 1, 2024, but the date was moved up due to the prodding of Gov. Northam.

Northam cited equality factors behind his reasoning, due to the fact that black individuals in Virginia are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white individuals.

We should be devastated that something so dangerous, yet so celebrated and widely accepted, is able to wrap its tentacles around yet another state. 

With an eye on the numbers that have been demonstrated in Colorado during its nine years with legalized marijuana, in the next decade, Virginia can expect an increase in violent crime, a rise in fatal car crashes and mental health disorders, more high school dropouts and brightly decorated pot shops growing roots in the towns we know and love. 

Bailey Duran is the Opinion Editor. Follow her on Twitter at @duran_bailey.

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