Courtesy of Ron Brooks
Ron Brooks is president of the 70,000-member National Narcotic Officers' Associations' Coalition, and is in his 35th year as a law enforcement officer in California.
As a 35-year law enforcement veteran and a father of two, I am alarmed by the dramatic increase in efforts to legalize or decriminalize powerful and dangerous drugs, including marijuana.
I am surprised that the "drug war has failed" drumbeat of drug legalizers is growing louder even in the wake of recent significant declines in drug abuse by young Americans. And I am appalled at the suggestion by some that legalizing and taxing marijuana is a smart way to close government budget gaps.
I have yet to hear a convincing argument that marijuana legalization is a healthy policy choice — physiologically, economically or socially.
Legalization advocates claim that current drug policy has failed. This is patently false if you measure success by whether drug use has increased or decreased. In fact, according to the Monitoring the Future survey conducted by the University of Michigan, youth marijuana use has declined by 25 percent since 2001. That translates into hundreds of thousands fewer young people using drugs today than just eight years ago.
That is not a failure of policy — it is a success generated by a balanced policy focused on preventing use, enforcing laws and treating those afflicted with the disease of addiction.
Legalization advocates would have us believe that marijuana is a benign drug. That message is not only reckless, it is dangerous. By treating marijuana as a joke, the pro-legalization lobby is using our kids as pawns in a dangerous political game. The research is clear: Because teen brains are still developing, young people who use marijuana are at greater risk of developing dependence.
Research also shows that marijuana use leads to greater incidence of depression, attention deficit disorder, and even schizophrenia. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, chronic marijuana use is associated with problem behaviors, including other drug use.
According to Dr. Paula Riggs, associate professor of psychiatry and director of adolescent services at the University of Denver, marijuana use by teens causes acute neurotoxicity. It "impairs cognitive functioning ... And if you're a kid who smokes regularly, you won't progress developmentally at the same rate as kids who aren't smoking."
Today's marijuana is much more powerful and addictive than in years past. THC — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — now averages 10 percent, up from 4 percent since 1983, and many samples tested between 20 percent and 37 percent. If that does not convince you, consider that marijuana is the No. 1 drug for which Americans kids between the ages of 12 and 18 seek treatment.
More than 65 percent of all teens in treatment are there for marijuana dependence, with another 11 percent in treatment for alcohol and drug dependence together, many of whom are using pot with alcohol. In another disturbing trend, hospital emergency room admissions involving marijuana tripled between 1994 and 2002 and now surpass ER admissions involving heroin. And drugged driving accidents — many involving marijuana — kill more than 8,000 and maim another 500,000 every year.
The bottom line is that efforts to legalize drugs including marijuana, and attempts to change America's abstinence-based drug policy to one of harm reduction — in other words, a policy where we teach people to use harmful drugs safely — put our kids and our communities at risk.
The Monitoring the Future survey shows that the No. 1 reason kids cite for not using pot is that it is illegal. Ask almost any cop, paramedic, ER doctor or schoolteacher if they think legalization is a good idea, and you will hear a resounding "no". It is clear that drug use and the disease of addiction threaten America's health and economic stability. It is amazing that some would suggest unleashing even more destruction and addiction through legalization.