Marijuana legalization? No thanks

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When the Appeal last month republished an editorial from Fallon's Lahontan Valley News endorsing a ballot initiative that would legalize small amounts of marijuana, the potheads rejoiced on the Appeal's Web site. But they must have been disappointed a few days later when Editor Barry Ginter reiterated this paper's longtime opposition to drug legalization.

"There may be some readers under the impression that the Appeal ... has endorsed a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana," Ginter wrote. "We haven't." He rejected arguments calling pot a "harmless drug" and favored "whatever option results in the least amount of marijuana being used in Nevada," which sounds reasonable to me. Because, as my loyal readers know, I'm adamantly opposed to the legalization of marijuana and other dangerous drugs.

The potheads will surely criticize me yet again for labeling marijuana as a dangerous drug, but don't take my word for it. Earlier this year, studies by Minnesota's respected Mayo Clinic found that regular marijuana use can cause health problems ranging from memory loss to cancer. Specifically, clinic researchers reported that pot smoking can inhibit short-term memory; reduce hand-eye coordination, reaction time and muscle strength; limit attention span; increase the risk of schizophrenia, and may even cause paranoia, anxiety and/or panic attacks.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reinforced those findings in April by declaring that marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the U.S., and has a lack of safety for use under medical supervision. The FDA further determined that pot smoking is harmful and that there are no sound scientific studies supporting the safety or efficacy of "medical" marijuana. Other than that, the drug is completely safe.

A recent investigative report by the Des Moines (Iowa) Register warned that "today's marijuana is at least 10 times more potent than it was in the 1970s," and quoted the Iowa Crime Lab as saying that 21st century pot produces "a stronger, longer-lasting high whose effects reach far beyond the so-called 'munchies' and drowsiness" caused by earlier, milder forms of the drug. Iowa Drug Czar Marvin Van Haaften added that today's marijuana contains THC (the main active chemical in the drug) levels of more than 20 percent, compared to average THC levels of two percent in the 1970s.

Van Haaften echoed an earlier warning by House Drug Policy Subcommittee Chairman Mark Souder (R-Ind.), who urged Congress to oppose marijuana legalization initiatives in several states, including Nevada. "Marijuana is a gateway drug," he wrote in a letter to fellow lawmakers. "Far from being a 'benign' substance, marijuana is a dangerous, addictive drug that is frequently the first step into the abyss of lifelong drug addiction." He based his comments on a recent study by the University of Otago, New Zealand, Medical School, which concluded that "there is a clear tendency for those using cannabis (marijuana) to have higher rates of usage of other illicit drugs," including methamphetamine, which is destroying lives in Nevada and elsewhere around the country.

The Reno Gazette-Journal recently published an in-depth report on the devastating impact of methamphetamine on the youth of Northern Nevada. According to a 2005 survey by the State Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, some 10 percent of Washoe County high school students and five percent of middle school students had tried meth at least once, creating a pool of thousands of potential teenage meth addicts in our area.

But what really got my attention was how many of the young drug users interviewed by the RG-J had experimented with marijuana before turning to meth. The anecdotal evidence that pot is a gateway drug contradicts claims by the Washington, D.C.-based, George Soros-financed Marijuana Policy Project, which is pushing drug legalization initiatives in Nevada and several other states. I'm pleased to report, however, that a similar MPP-sponsored Nevada ballot measure was defeated by a 60-40 margin two years ago and hope that my fellow voters will again say no to drugs in November.

The RG-J cited the instructive case of 17-year-old Cyndle Bell, of Carson City, whose tragic story was first made public when the Appeal's Teri Vance wrote that Ms. Bell "started drinking at 11 and smoking pot at 12, before meth almost destroyed her life. Her experience coincides with what local Justice of the Peace John Tatro told me two years ago - that at least half of the meth abusers who appeared in his court also tested positive for marijuana.

So let me reiterate a question I posed earlier this year: "If marijuana smoking can lead to the chronic use and abuse of meth and other more addictive drugs, and if meth is the No. 1 law enforcement priority in our city (which it is), what sense does it make to legalize possession of 'small' amounts of marijuana?" None, as far as I can see, which is why I'm encouraged to know that my opinion is shared by many community leaders including Mayor Marv Teixeira and Sheriff Ken Furlong, both of whom have had to deal with meth addiction problems in their own families. I wish them well and offer my support in their high-profile campaign to combat the plague of illegal drugs in Carson City.

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, participated in the War on Drugs in seven countries during his 28-year U.S. Foreign Service career.


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