Recreational marijuana passes in Colo., Wash.

DENVER (BP) -- Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana Nov. 6, while voters in Oregon rejected a similar proposal.

Barrett Duke, a Southern Baptist ethicist, expressed disappointment that adults in two states used their votes to make marijuana more accessible to youth.

"Marijuana is a very dangerous drug. Its use cannot be effectively regulated," Duke, vice president for public policy and research at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press Nov. 7.

"Our nation's abject failure to keep alcohol out of the hands of our youth testifies to the failure of regulation as a means to block access. These states have just guaranteed that they will deal with even more drug-related problems in the years to come," Duke added.

Amendment 64 in Colorado led Wednesday afternoon with 54.7 percent voting yes and 45.2 percent voting no, The Denver Post reported. The amendment will allow people age 21 and older to purchase as much as one ounce of marijuana at regulated retail stores or grow up to six marijuana plants at home. Public use of the drug will remain illegal.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper opposed the amendment but said the voters have spoken and "we have to respect their will."

In Washington, Initiative 502 was winning 55 to 44 percent with support from more than half of the state's counties, both rural and urban, The Seattle Times reported.

"The vote puts Washington and Colorado to the left of the Netherlands on marijuana law, and makes them the nexus of a new social experiment with uncertain consequences," the newspaper said.

Like Colorado, adults in Washington will be allowed to possess an ounce of marijuana, but it will be illegal to drive while impaired by the drug.

Duke warned of the negative impact the new laws will have in the two western states.

"While the young people in these states will pay the highest price as their use increases, families and businesses will suffer as well. Intoxication by any means is destructive," Duke said. "These states will pay a high price for their decision."

Though the votes have been cast, opponents still can help prevent the further spread of liberalized marijuana laws and steer young people away from its lure, Duke said.

"We will do everything we can to point out the problems caused by legalizing marijuana to help other states avoid the same mistake. Parents and churches in these states will need to redouble their efforts to help their young people understand the dangers of marijuana," Duke said.

"It comes down now to how our federal government will respond. We will encourage the administration to intervene and enforce federal drug policy."

The votes in Colorado and Washington now have set up a direct challenge to federal drug law, which considers marijuana an illegal substance. Federal authorities have not said how they will respond to the new state laws, but one option is to challenge the measures in court based on federal supremacy.

In Oregon, where supporters were less organized, Measure 80 trailed by 10 percentage points. The Oregonian described the measure there as the least restrictive of the three. It would have allowed unlicensed growth and use of marijuana by adults and would have prohibited restrictions on the drug.

Before the election, 17 states and the District of Columbia had legalized medical marijuana, including Colorado, Washington and Oregon. On Tuesday, voters in Massachusetts approved a medical marijuana measure, adding another state to the list.

A study in Colorado found that among teenagers receiving treatment for substance abuse, nearly 75 percent had used medical marijuana that was recommended for someone else -- something now called "diverted" medical marijuana.

"Many high-risk adolescent patients in substance abuse treatment have used diverted medical marijuana on multiple occasions, which implies that substantial diversion is occurring from registered users," lead author Stacy Salomonsen-Sautel said of the study, which appeared in the July issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

"Our results support the need for policy changes that protect against diversion of medical marijuana to adolescents."

In September, nine former heads of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to take a stand against the possible legalization of recreational marijuana.

"To continue to remain silent conveys to the American public and the global community a tacit acceptance of these dangerous initiatives," the group wrote, according to Reuters.

Holder opposed an effort in California in 2010 to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, and the ballot measure failed with 53.5 percent of voters rejecting it.

Advocates of marijuana legalization compare laws against marijuana to the prohibition of alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933, Reuters noted, and they argue that society would benefit from the drug's regulation.

But opponents of legalization say no amount of tax revenue is worth its legalization. They warn legalization would endanger the public by leading to an increase in drugged drivers and marijuana users, especially among teens and young adults. Most studies -- including one in the journal Nueropsychopharmacology in 2001 -- show that marijuana usage significantly slows reaction time.

Marijuana has been illegal on the federal level since 1937, and states that allow its use even for medical purposes are in violation of federal law.

Duke, in a Baptist Press column, said God didn't intend for humans to use their freedom in destructive ways.

"He made us free so that we could choose to make the right decisions, glorify Him and realize our personal and societal potential on our own," Duke wrote.

"Those who use their freedom to engage in self-destructive behaviors are letting themselves down, depriving society of their very best contribution to its well-being and dishonoring the God who made them," Duke wrote. "Rather than encouraging such negative consequences by legalizing marijuana, we should be helping people to focus on the best of what they can be."


Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).