The campaigning is finally over for the 2012 election but the smoke hasn't cleared yet, and it will be a while before it does. Voters in Colorado and Washington approved measures to make the recreational use of marijuana legal in those states, but the federal laws still pose a bit of a hurdle.
Washington passing such a measure didn’t surprise me. Especially considering that every summer "Hempfest" is hosted there and the local culture of the event allows people to feel comfortable using marijuana in public without much fear of legal consequences. What has been a bit more surprising is that voters in Colorado, a significant number of whom live in sections of the state that depend on tourism at major resorts, approved the measure.
Tourism is Colorado's second most important industry. Some people are worried that making marijuana legal there will damage the state's reputation. Others say not to worry because it has been well known for years that "smoke shacks" exist where those who want to use the drug gather. Still others worry that it will cause business visitors to stay away.
Details of how this will change things have yet to emerge. This measure won't allow people to legally use marijuana in public, and commercial sales guidelines still have to be defined. Also, the more than 500 medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado cannot allow on-site consumption. This means patients have to take the drug home with them to use it. It is possible that lawmakers could allow for different rules for recreational marijuana shops.
Physical side effects from marijuana, however, have already been established. The Website for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington, no less, and the Mayo Clinic provide information online that documents some of the effects of using marijuana. This information clearly shows marijuana isn't physically addictive but is psychologically addictive. It isn't simply a harmless drug coming from a "natural plant." There are many “natural” things that are dangerous. For example, asbestos is a natural substance that has many great uses but I don’t want wear it or use it in my blankets.
Some of the side effects of marijuana use are minor, while others seem quite risky, like evidence that marijuana use is linked to testicular cancer and reproductive problems.
From a law enforcement standpoint, however, the paranoia problems caused by marijuana concern me the most.
It isn't just during domestic dispute calls, traffic stops, or assaults that paranoid people are more likely to behave irrationally and violently than non-paranoid people. The paranoia side effects of marijuana can and often do last well after the high has receded. The potential for violence expands due to this paranoia. Of course for law enforcement officers, it can be argued that they have been dealing with marijuana users for a long time anyway so the sale of it might as well be controlled by the government. In all reality this isn't an issue that may ever be resolved to anyone's satisfaction.
This entire scenario reminds me of the argument of what caused the fall of the Roman Empire. This may seem a bit unrelated, but bear with me. For a long time it has been alleged that lead poisoning caused the fall of the empire. High levels of lead are found in the bones of people from the empire’s time span. The Romans used lead for the plumbing, the pots they used to cook in, the bottles they put wine in and many everyday items such as cosmetics and jewelry.
Lead poisoning causes physical and mental problems just as marijuana use causes physical and mental problems. The fall may best be explained by some of the more recent books published on the topic which present that the Roman Empire didn't fall so much as it "modified." The government changed to deal with the people and new situations. This was in part a result of the change in population and culture of the empire as it expanded.
Isn't the approval of measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use also a change in the government as a result of the change of the culture and population? Perhaps the legalization of marijuana will be linked in the future to the fall of the American Empire and perhaps it will be argued that it was not a fall at all but a modification.