There’s a lot of debate about the legalization of marijuana. Of the 20 states that have decriminalized its possession, most of them have done so for “medical use only.” Washington and Colorado are the only states allowing it for recreational use. I recall when it was legalized for medical use in California — I was amazed at the number of college students who suddenly had medical marijuana cards.

I’ve never smoked pot, nor experimented with any other drug for that matter. Honestly, I can’t stand the smell of weed and I have absolutely no interest in seeing what ingesting an illicit drug will do to or for me. I also don’t particularly like taking prescribed medicine, but that’s just me. Society is more accepting of marijuana use, both for medical purposes and recreationally, so we must acknowledge the elephant standing in the room. And once we do that, we can get to the task of setting clearly defined standards for its usage — think under the influence/public intoxication criteria.

Currently, we’re spending over $50 billion a year on “The War on Drugs,” a war declared in 1971 by then-President Nixon (I was 8 years old) and yet we really don’t have a lot to show for our investment — particularly with regard to marijuana. And this doesn’t include monies spent on peripheral operations like ATF’s Operation Gunrunner/Fast and Furious, aimed at reducing US-Mexico cross-border drug and gun trafficking and gun violence. But I digress … we already have three legal drugs in the US: caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. The latter two are extensively taxed and government-controlled, and all three have addictive properties.

There are those who will abuse substances and become addicts, it’s why there are recovery programs for everything under the sun. Is pot a gateway drug? It’s debatable, and you can find studies to support just about any view you might have on the subject. I believe it can be a gateway drug, but then again the same argument could be made against alcohol. At least with alcohol there are decades worth of research that helped establish standards for intoxication. Studies also show alcohol’s effect on motor functions, judgment and the damage it causes (our brains and bodies) when used to excess. We’ve established acceptable levels of use and every state has limits set for such issues as being “drunk in public” (unable to care for the safety of themselves or others) or driving while “under the influence” (impaired for the purposes of operating a motor vehicle). Such standards are not so clear when it comes to pot.

Why Not?

When dealing with someone who’s intoxicated or drunk (alcohol), an officer must quantify the symptoms he or she observed, and in the case of driving while under the influence, take evidence in the form of a chemical test. The same should hold true with marijuana. With all the long-term research conducted on pot usage, I find it hard to believe the scientific world hasn’t come up with a set of objective symptoms the average user exhibits when using the drug. The data is out there. I’d suggest a better use of some of the $50 billion is to correlate all the research into a set of standards by which people can (or can’t) be held to when in public, or operating cars or heavy machinery.

Next, establish the levels of THC necessary for someone to be considered under the influence, testing and analyzing procedures, chain of custody and storage guidelines, and all the other policies needed to enable prosecution. It’ll take some effort to get a consensus on minimum standards; some believe 2 nanograms per milliliter should be the threshold while others believe 5 nanograms per milliliter is the mark. Whether it’s 2 or 5, the ultimate responsibility for showing intoxication lies with the arresting officer. It’s still up to us to quantify everything we observe and articulating the totality of those observations means the subject is intoxicated/drunk/stoned or whatever.

In the grand scheme of drugs, I’m not convinced marijuana use is all that evil. I’ve never seen a pot smoker exhibit any of the behaviors we see with such drugs as methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, angel dust, rave/club drugs — I think we can agree there’s nothing good about any of these. Making cannabis the fourth legal drug is already happening.

Sort of … and slowly.

It’s time to fully embrace the legalization and regulation of pot, because prohibiting it has not been working. We should be working with our elected officials, scientists and the medical world, along with pro-cannabis groups to create legal standards for its acceptable use. Restrict its use to adults just as we already do with nicotine and alcohol. Unfortunately, like many other issues these days, no one wants to give an inch and it’s why we’re still spinning our wheels — getting nowhere. It’s okay to compromise. Just by making it legal doesn’t mean we all have to run out and start toking; I know I sure won’t, but I’m open to its legalization and intelligent regulation. Let’s stop all this silliness and get on with it.
By Suzi Huntington

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