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WASHINGTON (BP) -- Some people are saying that our country would be better off if we legalized recreational marijuana. A number of states (Colorado, Oregon, Washington) and other jurisdictions are considering that very proposition this fall. Numerous others are being moved in that direction. This is a mistake.
Our country has outlawed marijuana use for good reason. Marijuana is a multiple gateways drug. For starters, it is a gateway to addiction and other drug abuse. There are many pathways to addiction, and marijuana is one of them. Users can become addicted to marijuana itself, more often psychologically, but physical addiction also can occur. For others, marijuana is a gateway to harder drugs. Some will decide to experiment with harder drugs as they chase stronger highs. Peer pressure also is a significant problem. Marijuana introduces users to a subculture where drug abuse is common. The pressure to participate more fully in this culture is simply irresistible for some. Addiction is sure to follow for many.
Marijuana is also a gateway to health problems. Marijuana introduces multiple toxic chemicals into the user's body, many of which we do not even know the effects on the human body. But we do know that marijuana puts the user at higher risk for cancer, psychosis, strokes, respiratory damage and heart attacks.
In addition, marijuana is a gateway to crime. In a 2002 Department of Justice survey of convicted inmates in jail, 29 percent reported using illegal drugs at the time of their offense. Marijuana was used most commonly, more than cocaine/crack (14 percent to 11 percent). Crimes of robbery and theft were committed most often to obtain money for drugs. Clearly, not all marijuana users will commit other crimes, but the relationship between drug use (including marijuana) and crime is undeniable. Many in law enforcement oppose legalizing marijuana because it is linked often to other criminal activity. Currently, police can search people who possess or are using marijuana, leading at times to other charges, including illegal gun possession.
Some argue that marijuana use is different from other criminal activities and that users should not be jailed with hardened criminals. Most of the criminal justice system already agrees. People sentenced to jail these days with a marijuana charge usually are also guilty of some other crime. The marijuana is usually an aggravating factor, not the primary one.
But by keeping marijuana illegal, we can better develop ways to discourage its use. A system of increasing fines, penalties and requirements, like substance-abuse counseling, can be developed. Penalties even could include the loss of one's driver's license. Jail could be a last resort for habitual offenders.
Marijuana also introduces many users to poverty and reduced economic prosperity. Marijuana use is not conducive to productivity. Its use creates mental as well as physical impairment. Employers do not even permit its use in most work environments because the user is more prone to errors and accidents. In a 1998 study, Dr. Robert Kaestner, professor of economics at the University of Illinois, Chicago, concluded, "Drug use and poverty are related because drug use affects the determinants of poverty: education, human capital investment, marriage and fertility."
Some current proponents advocate legalizing marijuana and adopting a regulatory system similar to the way we regulate alcohol use. Millions of families are reeling from the impact of alcohol abuse. One runaway legalized drug abuse problem is more than enough. We don't need to add another. By maintaining its illegal status, our country can better control the catastrophic impact of marijuana.
We live in a country that highly values freedom. That is a good thing. God Himself made us free. But He didn't intend for us to use our 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.
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. Rather than encouraging such negative consequences by legalizing marijuana, we should be helping people to focus on the best of what they can be.
Barrett Duke is vice president for public policy and research of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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