The case against marijuana legalization The marijuana lobby, groups like NORML that represent drug users, is spending heavily to convince voters in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon to legalize pot. But for the 90 percent of us who don't smoke marijuana, 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. Brain development continues until age 26, but marijuana interferes with normal growth and permanently alters the teenage brain. A study looking at teenage pot-smokers who continued using into adulthood found that average IQ declined by 8 points between ages 13 and 38. Quitting pot did not reverse the process. Adolescent pot-smokers get addicted at twice the adult rate. And research shows that teenagers who smoke marijuana regularly do worse in school, drop out at much higher rates, and have less satisfying careers as adults. 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 mostly to blame. Behind the wheel, marijuana poses the same problems as alcohol. Researchers at 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 (blood alcohol = 0.08) is 11 times as likely to be in any type of crash. The rates are similar. But while everyone knows driving drunk is dangerous, marijuana advocates often insist that pot-smokers are safe drivers, and surveys show many of them drive within an hour of getting high. 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 paying for what it costs society. These include criminal-justice and health care costs, and the most expensive of all, lost work productivity and absenteeism. Marijuana would be the same: a net drain on society. Legalizing marijuana would benefit people who sell the drug and those who only care about getting high. For the rest of us, keeping pot illegal is the better option. Marijuana prohibition is not a burden on society; it's a benefit.

John Shafer • Athena

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