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Return of the potheads

Guy Farmer
Special to the Appeal

Last month, House Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Subcommittee Chairman Mark Souder (R-Ind.) sent a letter to fellow lawmakers urging them to oppose marijuana legalization initiatives in Nevada and several other states. Good for him!

“I write to draw your attention to the most recent research demonstrating the fact that marijuana is a gateway drug,” he wrote. “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, especially for adolescents.” The congressman was referring to a recent long-term study by researchers at the Otago University School of Medicine in New Zealand, 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 a plague in Carson City and elsewhere throughout our state and nation.

In 2004 Carson City Justice of the Peace John Tatro told me that at least half of the meth abusers who appear before him also tested positive for marijuana. And just last month the Appeal published a graphic example of how marijuana can lead to the use of hard drugs. It was the story of 17-year-old Cyndle Bell of Carson City and her personal battle against meth addiction, which she chronicled in a 15-minute documentary produced as her senior project at Carson High School.

“I despise drugs and I hope this film gets in people’s heads,” she told Appeal reporter Teri Vance. “I want them to see how meth ruins people.” Ms. Vance reported that Cyndle “started drinking at 11 and smoking pot at 12,” so I have a question: 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, what sense does it make to legalize possession of “small” amounts of marijuana? None, as far as I can see.

Well, that’s exactly what a group of East Coast potheads Ð I call them drug legalizers — want to perpetrate in our drug-afflicted community by means of an initiative petition that will be on the ballot in November. Two years ago, a similar petition was rejected by a 60-40 margin and I see no reason to vote any differently this time around. In fact, given the devastating impact of illicit drugs on young people (and others) in our community, I hope the margin of victory against the measure is even more decisive this fall.

A few days after Ms. Bell’s moving story was published, 32-year-old Michael Cordero-Perez admitted that he was under the influence of beer and marijuana last December when his vehicle crossed the center line on Jack’s Valley Road in Douglas County and crashed head-on into a vehicle driven by 42-year-old Robin Moroney, of Gardnerville, who died on the spot. And that’s just the latest driving-under-the-influence-of-drugs story in our state.

In a 2004 column I cited three more deadly cases in which marijuana-smoking drivers killed a total of 12 people. In one case, a retired California firefighter drove the wrong way on I-80 east of Reno and smashed head-on into a van carrying a Utah mother and her four children. And in Las Vegas, a 22-year-old stripper who was high on marijuana lost control of her van and careened into the median, killing six teenagers who were part of a county work crew.

Nevertheless, one of my Appeal colleagues (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty) recently supported marijuana legalization on the theory that “telling people they can use alcohol but not marijuana is like telling children they can have Pepsi but not Sprite. It’s a difference without a distinction.” Well maybe, but two wrongs don’t make a right, and that’s what former Appeal Editor Barry Smith argued in a well-reasoned editorial before he moved across town last month to become executive director of the Nevada Press Association. “Ballot initiative supporters say they aren’t supporting marijuana use,” he wrote. “They’re simply trying to sweep away ineffective drug enforcement laws. We just can’t see it that way, and neither will Nevada voters.” Amen!

Once again, as they did in 2004, the potheads are presenting their initiative as a “better law enforcement” measure. Baloney! Which is why district attorneys, sheriffs — including Carson City’s Ken Furlong, whose daughter had a meth problem — and police chiefs throughout Nevada oppose the national drug legalization campaign. Also, it should be noted that Rob Kampia, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, is a convicted felon (on drug charges, of course) Ð not someone who should be advising us on anti-drug policies here in Carson or anywhere else in Nevada.

According to the highly respected Mayo Clinic, regular marijuana use can cause health problems ranging from memory loss to cancer. Specifically, the clinic has reported that marijuana 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.

If you want to make marijuana available to your children and grandchildren at local convenience stores, that’s your business. But when it becomes an expensive community health and law enforcement problem, as illicit drugs clearly are in Carson City, then it’s everyone’s business, and we don’t want any part of it. So let’s join our civic leaders in supporting the Partnership Carson City coalition designed to alert local parents and children to the costly and noxious effects of methamphetamine and other dangerous drugs, including marijuana.

• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, served on the front lines of the War on Drugs in four Latin American countries during his 28-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service.