If the term “medical marijuana” makes you think of people in extreme pain getting relief from a life-threatening illness, consider that in California only 2 percent of medical marijuana patients have the most serious medical conditions, and that so-called medical marijuana is the same stuff sold by drug dealers.
The legalization of medical marijuana is sure to get more discussion as Florida considers joining states that have approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes. A referendum that would allow medical marijuana has been submitted for Florida’s ballot in 2014, and has already gathered the votes needed to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review of its language. In addition, last week Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi also challenged the wording of the ballot amendment.
The pro-marijuana folks have spent a lot of money and done a great job marketing the idea that marijuana is medicine, that our jails are full of one-time, small-possession young people, and that somehow the state and country would save money by legalizing marijuana. As with most political maneuvers and efforts to win popular opinion, these statements are greatly exaggerated or untrue.
While there may be benefits to the Food and Drug Administration-approved medicine that has been derived from the marijuana plant, there is plenty of data to suggest that smoking marijuana in its raw form is more harmful than beneficial. That’s probably why the American Medical Association, the Glaucoma Foundation and the American Cancer Society have all decided not to endorse the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Proponents claim that medical marijuana is only for the sick and dying. Yet studies show that the average user is a 32-year-old white male, and very few of those who seek a recommendation for medical marijuana have cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma or multiple sclerosis.
While we agree that further discussions should be had on the current laws and the approach to marijuana arrests, only 0.04 percent of state prisoners with no prior offenses are in jail for marijuana possession.
Also, the idea that legalization would somehow make money is inaccurate. Our nation’s experiences with alcohol and tobacco show that for every dollar gained in taxes, we spent $10 on social costs. Considering the consequences, such as theft, intoxicated accidents, addiction and other destructive behavior associated marijuana use, the cost to Florida alone could be in the billions.
Finally, legalizing marijuana would surely mean not only increased use in general, but, worse, an increase in youth use. That means youth whose brains haven’t fully developed, who will be fighting for the best jobs and who will need every brain cell they can get to keep up in this rapidly evolving world, would be exposed to more opportunities to make bad choices. Studies show that youth drug use rates in states with medical marijuana are twice the rate of states without it.
The Palm Beach County Substance Awareness Coalition would like to make sure that you are informed on the subject before you are asked to vote, as the decision will affect our entire community. With that in mind, the coalition will be presenting The Great Debate at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Duncan Theater on the Lake Worth campus of Palm Beach State College.
Aaron Houston, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, will debate Kevin Sabet, co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, on the issue of medical marijuana legalization. Palm Beach Post Editor of the Editorial Page Randy Schultz will moderate the debate.
Mr. Sabet has served as a drug policy adviser in three presidential administrations, and Mr. Houston is an expert on drug policy who was involved in the creation of federal guidelines on medical marijuana. Space is limited and free tickets can be reserved at www.PBCGreatDebate.org.
Jeff Kadel is executive director of the Palm Beach County Substance Awareness Coalition. Its website is pbcsac.org.