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No on 91: There's no upside to legalizing marijuana

The marijuana lobby — groups like the Drug Policy Alliance that represents drug users — is spending heavily to legalize pot in Oregon. But for the 90 percent of us who don’t smoke pot, the argument against legalization is simple and compelling: It will hurt the next generation and increase the carnage on our highways.

And there is no upside. Legalization won’t unclog our prisons or bring tax benefits.

Marijuana permanently alters the teenage brain. Brain development continues until age 26, but marijuana interferes with normal growth. A study that looked at teenage pot smokers who continued using into adulthood found that average IQ declined by eight points between ages 13 and 38. And quitting pot did not reverse the process.

Research shows that teenagers who smoke pot regularly do worse in school and have less-satisfying careers as adults. Adolescent pot-smokers get addicted at twice the rate of adults, and if they smoke regularly by age 15, are twice as likely to drop out.

No parent wants this for their children, but since 2008, the number of teens who smoke pot regularly (at least 20 times per month) has increased by 80 percent. The marijuana lobby’s campaign to convince us that pot is harmless is to blame.

It’s a similar story behind the wheel; marijuana poses the same problems as alcohol. A research study from the University of Auckland compared average drivers to people killed or hospitalized by car accidents, and found that regular marijuana users were 9.5 times as likely to be in a serious or fatal car wreck. In comparison, someone who’s legally drunk (a blood alcohol level of .08 of higher) is 11 times as likely to be in any type of crash. Pot and alcohol are both deadly behind the wheel.

But while everyone knows driving drunk is dangerous, marijuana advocates often insist that pot smokers are safe drivers, even though surveys show many of them drive within an hour of getting high. And according to Alan Crancer, retired research analyst for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, if marijuana use becomes more prevalent, as it would with legalization, it could overtake alcohol as the deadliest drug on the road. The marijuana lobby’s claim that pot is safer than alcohol and never killed anyone is just plain wrong.

The claim that thousands of people are behind bars for simple possession is also untrue. The Justice Department researched this claim and found that almost everyone in federal prison for marijuana possession had prior offenses, pleaded down from a more serious charge, or was in possession of very large amounts — the median was 115 pounds. They’re not there for just smoking a joint.

The tax story is equally misleading. Taxes on alcohol come nowhere near to making up for what alcohol takes from society in criminal-justice costs, health care costs, and the most expensive problem of all, lost work productivity and absenteeism. Legalized pot would be the same; a net drain on society.

Also, the alcohol industry has a powerful lobby that fights to keep taxes low. The marijuana lobby would be no different.

Legalization of marijuana would benefit two groups of people: those who sell the stuff and those whose only care in life is getting high. For the rest of us, keeping pot illegal is the best option. Marijuana prohibition is not a burden on society; it’s a benefit.

Roy Burge is a Milwaukie resident and a member of the Overland Park Coalition Against Drug Crime.

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