Tahlequah Daily Press

February 10, 2014

Opinions vary in community on subject of pot legalization

By SEAN ROWLEY
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — With several states liberalizing or eliminating laws against marijuana use, discussion in other states is centering on the potential advantages and drawbacks of legalizing, or at least decriminalizing, the plant.

Oklahoma is one of 26 states where it remains illegal to smoke, ingest, grow, distribute or use pot for any other reason. Legalization proponents suggest prohibition costs states money, not only to enforce the laws but also in potential tax revenue lost.

Although a bill will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session to legalize cannabis, most officials doubt it will gain any traction.

Marla Saeger, president of the Tahlequah Farmers’ Market, is watching developments in Colorado, where recreational pot use is legal.

“I think our neighboring state is going to show us what it looks like,” she said. “It might not be a bad idea to wait a couple of years and see what happens, but I hate to see our state fall behind culturally and economically.”

Saeger said the advantages of legalization go beyond the decriminalization of marijuana use.

“Forget the marijuana and look at hemp,” she said. “It is something we could use. It has the longest tap root of any plant known and holds the soil in. It can be utilized as fuel and put our farmers back to work. I also believe prohibition props up another aspect of militarization within our nation. There is too much hate. We need to look at the realities and not the emotional aspects.”

When the Daily Press posed the question of legalization on Facebook, several posts supported legalization. The responses can be read by visiting the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/tdpress.

“I think as a medicine it has so many benefits and does not take out your liver,” wrote Boyd McBrayer. “Chronic pain is hell. But no money in it for the big drug companies. They donate money and false info to our politicians. This would make money for our state by taxes.”

But not all sentiments favored full legalization.

“Heck, no!” wrote Ruth McMurtrey, and Rita Fagan wrote, “Yes, for medical use only.”

Dr. Kenneth Gibson, an addiction expert with the NeoHealth Clinic in Hulbert, recently attended a conference on addiction in Washington, D.C. He said the atmosphere there was not conducive to full legalization of marijuana.

“For me, the most troubling finding through studies is that chronic marijuana use can reduce a person’s IQ by 10 points,” he said. “That is the difference between a high school diploma and a college degree, or an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree. There was concern that legalization might convince teens marijuana is harmless. Chronic use by someone in their late teens, who is still developing, can have serious consequences.”

Gibson said medical legalization might not have the appearance some proponents expect, and that legal use does exist in Oklahoma – sort of.

“There are a couple of drugs which contain THC – a specific active ingredient in marijuana – that we can prescribe to those undergoing cancer treatments or suffering severe symptoms due to AIDS,” he said. “It eases pain, nausea and reduces vomiting. Medically legal marijuana would likely be prescribed as some sort of pill. We wouldn’t tell you to smoke your medicine. That’s dangerous. As with tobacco, you’re smoking a vegetable matter with a broad range of compounds.”

On the issue of legalization, Gibson believes fully legal recreational use is not a good idea.

“As legalization proponents point out, we tax alcohol and tobacco liberally,” he said. “But those taxes haven’t solved our money problems. At the convention, it was suggested that for every tax dollar collected on tobacco and alcohol, 10 were spent cleaning up the messes they cause. The case might be the same with legal marijuana. Today’s plant is also more potent. In the 1970 or ‘80s, the ‘good stuff’ had a THC content of about 3 percent. Now it is often double and sometimes nearly triple that.”

But Gibson, as an addiction expert, said a change of attitude and culture is needed toward those who suffer from substance dependencies.

“I do believe it would be beneficial to decriminalize marijuana,” he said. “It doesn’t help to ostracize or condemn someone who is dealing with a substance problem, and people shouldn’t be sent to jail or prison or live with permanent marks on their resume because they got caught with a joint.”

Marijuana is now legal to some extent in a number of states. A Pew poll released in April 2013 indicated 52 percent of Americans favored legalization.

In November 2012, ballot issues were approved in Colorado and Washington to allow the recreational use of marijuana. Similar ballot questions were rejected in Alaska, California, Nevada and Oregon. South Dakota and Arkansas voted against pot’s medical use, and North Dakota voters rejected the decriminalization of marijuana.

The current status of marijuana laws in the United States includes only two where it is fully legal, but others where its use is allowed to various degrees.

• Legal:  Colorado and Washington.

• Medicinal use only and decriminalized: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Rhode Island.

• Medicinal use only: Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington D.C.

• Decriminalized: Ohio, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York and North Carolina.

• Illegal: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The Obama administration has stated its opposition to legalization, but the Justice Department has not taken legal measures against any state initiatives, and in August 2013 informed Colorado and Washington it would not challenge the legalization laws, providing the states strictly monitor the sale and distribution of marijuana.

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

To read the results of a poll asking Daily Press readers their opinions on legalization, tahlequahTDP.com

srowley@tahlequahdailypress.com