Editorial in the Las Cruces Sun-News entitled, "SHOULD MARIJUANA BE LEGALIZED FOR RECREATIONAL USE?"

January 16, 2014

New Mexico starts a 30-day legislative session next week and one of the political hot topics is the legalization of marijuana. New Mexico approved the use of medical marijuana several years ago. This time, however, some are pushing for the legalization of its recreational use similar to what Colorado voters passed in 2012. I believe this would be a mistake for several reasons.

First, the legislative process will be circumvented. Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) is planning a constitutional amendment as the tool to legalize marijuana. Why? Because Governor Susana Martinez has already voiced her “strong opposition” to the plan and a constitutional amendment would bypass the executive branch. Choosing an amendment to get around one of our three branches of government is wrong.

Furthermore, this is not the kind of issue we should be amending our constitution for. Amendments should be reserved for serious issues of civil rights, not protecting people from the legal repercussions of getting wasted.

The real threat, however, is the legalization of a very dangerous drug. For example, according to the National Drug Control Policy, “Smoked marijuana damages the brain, heart, lungs, and immune system. It impairs learning and interferes with memory, perception, and judgment. Smoked marijuana contains cancer-causing compounds and has been implicated in a high percentage of automobile crashes and workplace accidents.”

Interestingly, according to another study by the British Lung Foundation, marijuana cigarettes can have several times the potency of regular cigarettes. This is why I find it ironic that the people who are most enthusiastic to legalize marijuana are the same group who demonize regular cigarette smoking and its effects.

Despite the evidence, however, the general public doesn’t seem to grasp this danger. Images of a middle-aged man smoking a tiny joint in his living room while watching Sunday morning cartoons seem harmless. And, in a vacuum, I agree. However, this is not the entire picture of reality.

The reason why Governor Martinez opposes the legalization of marijuana is because of the reality she experienced as a prosecutor. According to a recent Sun-News report, “As district attorney, the governor has seen firsthand how illegal drug use destroys lives, especially among our youth.”

Okay, but won’t legalizing marijuana have positive effects on violence and tax revenues?

Unless we legalize all drugs such as heroin and cocaine, violence will not decline; especially since marijuana is a “gateway” drug. A 2002 U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report regarding the use of marijuana concluded, “…the more likely they are to use cocaine and heroin and become dependent.”

Combine this with the encouragement people will receive when our government puts their stamp of approval on this dangerous drug, and its use will naturally increase. Since this will lead to an increased use of all drugs, overall drug-related crime and violence will also increase.

As far as profit is concerned, tax revenues are not the only thing that will increase when we legalize marijuana. Medical costs and insurance rates will also go up as addiction rates and rehabilitation treatments increase. And higher dependency rates will negatively impact work-place productivity, which will in turn affect hiring and firing. Of course, this will lead to increased dependency on government aid.

Will the boost in tax revenues compensate for this? I’m not sure, but employers in Las Cruces might be more inclined to hire people from Texas to avoid the additional liability insurance and increased risk of having an employee show up to work high.

I use a simple litmus test for drugs: If you can work an ordinary job after consuming a modest amount, then it should be legal. Drinking a couple of beers or smoking a few cigarettes at lunch will not significantly impair my ability to work (by the way, the same thing goes for sugar, salt, trans-fats and Big Gulps). However, smoking a joint or two during a break could prevent me from finding my desk, let alone doing my job.

Lastly, as a minimum, we should wait to see the overall impact of legalizing marijuana in Colorado before we jump on the bandwagon and later wish we hadn’t. The beautiful thing about living in the United States is that we have 50 independent laboratories where we can test things, before the rest of us partake.

New Mexico has much bigger problems to deal with during this year’s short legislative session. We should not allow a few liberal politicians to get us sidetracked with legalizing marijuana.

Neal Hooks