jasonbwatson

October 27, 2015

The stupidity of legalizing pot

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “By seeking and blundering we learn.” That is true, of course; some of life’s most painful–and most valuable–lessons come as a result of blundering and failure. Still, it is not necessary to experience everything for ones’ self in order to learn. In other words, it is quite possible to learn from the experiences–and the mistakes, in particular–of others. Being willing to do that is a demonstration of wisdom. There are two other quotes I have heard before in varying forms, and I have not been able to determine the originator of either, that demonstrate this truth. First: “Wise men learn from their mistakes, but wiser men learn from the mistakes of others.” Second: “A wise man learn from the mistakes of others while fools learn from their own mistakes.” Similarly, according to Forbes contributor Vitaliy Katsenelson, there is a Russian expression that says this: “The wise man learns from someone else’s mistakes, the smart man learns from his own, and the stupid one never learns.” I am afraid we have a lot of stupid people in the United States and next week–apologies to my friends who live there–we are going to find out exactly how many of them live in Ohio.

Next Tuesday, Ohio voters will weigh in on whether or not to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. According to some reports I have seen, polls are indicating that as many as 56% of Ohioans are in support of the idea. On September 15, Toledo voted to change its city ordinances to decriminalize marijuana, “abolishing jail terms and penalties for possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana” according to the Toledo Blade. The measure passed by a margin of more than 2 to 1. Only 9% of eligible voters turned out to vote on the question, called the “Sensible Marijuana Ordinance.” Sensible? Yeah right. Very effective spin by someone, though. It is not as if Toledo specifically, or Ohio in general, have a monopoly on stupidity, though. Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington already allow the recreational use of marijuana. President Obama is on record supporting the idea. The National Organization for Women and the ACLU have been lending their support for legalizing marijuana in the upcoming Ohio vote.

Why am I saying that if projections hold it means the majority of Ohioans are stupid? The Russian expression says the stupid man never learns. Taking even the most cursory look at the impact of legalized marijuana in those states where it is permitted, though, reveals exactly how bad an idea it is. It is surely tempting on many fronts. After all, people have been saying for years that marijuana does not cause the problems that other illegal drugs do. Those places where it has been legalized enjoy tremendous tax revenues as a result of its sale. A recent WORLD article reports that Manitou Springs, Colorado is expected to have $25 million in marijuana sales this year. That translates into $1.2 million in tax revenue for the city. The state of Colorado is projected to take in over $100 million this year in marijuana revenue. In the month of May alone there was more than $11 million in “marijuana-related taxes, licenses, and fees” according to the WORLD piece. And those are just state-level numbers; they do not even include local taxes like the $1.2 million for Manitou Springs. If someone says, “hey, this doesn’t hurt anyone and it will bring in lots of money for the city and state, too?” who wouldn’t be tempted? Only the stupid, though, refuse to look beyond the sales pitch and investigate the darker reality. The financial windfall is legit, but so are the costs that will eventually result. And I do not mean only financial costs, either.

Oklahoma, Nebraska, Wyoming and Kansas have all filed lawsuits against Colorado, seeking compensation for the additional costs they have as a result of marijuana purchased legally in Colorado. Sheriffs in Colorado counties that do not allow marijuana sales–and fewer than one-third of the state’s towns and cities do–have sued the state in an effort to get back the additional costs they have as a result of the problems caused by marijuana. What kinds of problems? John Suthers, the mayor of Colorado Springs–which does not allow marijuana–says, “Marijuana has become pervasive in our schools. Most of our suspensions are from marijuana. Legalization has lessened the perception of risk among young people, and when the perception of risk goes down, use goes up.” That quote is from the WORLD article. A September 22 report on RT addressed a 166-page report released after a federal government study. The study revealed “increases in marijuana-related traffic deaths, hospital visits, school suspensions, lab explosions, and pet poisonings.” Furthermore, the report stated “that the number of drivers testing positive for marijuana increased 100 percent from 2007 to 2012, with marijuana-related fatalities doubling….” Oh, and as for the suggestion that legalizing marijuana will actually make it safer by eliminating the illegal sale, or black market, for pot? Forget about it. In a February article in Newsweek Ben Smith quoted William Bennett saying, in response to a questioner asking if pot was worse than underage drinking and abuse of prescription drugs, “It’s not worse than alcohol. We know we have a problem, and we have not managed to keep those things from kids. Colorado was supposed to eliminate the marijuana black market, but it did not.” On May 18 Dion Rabouin reported in the International Business Times about the face that legal pot dealers have incredible amounts of oversight and red tape to deal with whereas the illegal dealers do not, creating the problem of “the competing black market dealers who have none of the costs of operating a lawful business and often have access to product of similar quality. Marijuana advocates long suggested that legalization would be the key to wiping out the black market for marijuana, but almost a year and a half into the experiment, that hasn’t been the case.”

There are numerous more reports, articles and studies that could be quoted to support the case against marijuana. None of that gets much attention on the ground, though, when the vote is looming. In the last Republican presidential debate Chris Christie had the courage to say what few others have said, which is that the federal government needs to enforce the law. It was established long ago that when there is a conflict federal law trumps state law. The sale and use of recreational marijuana is still a federal crime. Funny, isn’t it, how the federal government has been happy to allow states to do their own thing on the issue of pot but would not let them make their own laws regarding marriage. Sadly, they have their role exactly reversed. Marriage is not a federal government responsibility, and, per the Tenth Amendment, should be left to the states. Drug use, though, can easily be substantiated as a public security and health risk, making it an appropriate responsibility of the federal government.

I shudder to think of yet another state voting to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. My hope is that there are enough people in Ohio who are not stupid that will show up next Tuesday and vote to keep it illegal. And the state then needs to do to Toledo what the federal government needs to do to Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. The last thing we need is more stupidity.

June 11, 2014

Lower IQ and Brain Damage

It is no secret that several states in the U.S. have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. It still violates federal law, and federal law trumps state law when there is a conflict…but that’s not what I really want to write about today so I won’t go down that path. What I want to write about is that the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana is an excellent example of what can happen when laws are changed to allow people to do what they want whether doing so is a good idea or not…especially when the long-term effects are either not known or indicate that allowing it is not a good idea.

There have long been those who argue that marijuana is not addictive even though you can find plenty of people who will you from first hand experience that it is. There have long been those who argue that there are no serious side effects or marijuana use even though there is plenty of anecdotal and scientific evidence to say otherwise. It has long been known that marijuana functions as a gateway drug, often paving the way for users to move on to harder drugs.

Additionally, there are a number of scientific studies suggesting that the regular use of marijuana does indeed have serious and lasting consequences. In the April issue of The Journal of Neuroscience contains a study conducted by researches from Northwestern University in Illinois, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital on the effects of marijuana use on the brain. The researchers used MRI to measure “the volume, shape and density of the amygdala and nucleus accumbens, two brain structures related to emotion, reward and motivation” according to an article by Daniel James Devine. What did the MRI scans reveal? That smoking marijuana at least weekly produces abnormalities in these parts of the brain.

In the words of Hans Breiter, one of the co-authors of the study, “People think a little recreational use shouldn’t cause a problem, if someone is doing OK with work or school. Our data directly says this is not the case.”

This study is but one of several scientific studies showing the damage that marijuana can do to the brain. There is one study that indicates that people who begin smoking marijuana heavily as teenagers will lost an average of eight IQ points by age 38. Other studies indicate that there are fewer brain connections in the regions of the brain responsible for memory and learning among marijuana users.

Despite this evidence, Washington and Colorado are now allowing the legal use of marijuana for recreational purposes and the trend is likely to continue. It saddens me to say that I know a young man who moved from the east cost to Colorado specifically because he could use marijuana legally there. There are twenty-one states that allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes but none of us are naive enough to believe that it is used only for medicinal purposes and only by those with legitimate medical need for it.

One of the problems with the legalization of marijuana is that teenagers in particular will see that as proof that using it is perfectly safe, even harmless. The same article by Daniel James Devine reports a December 2013 study by the Department of Health and Human Services indicates that only 40% of high school seniors believe regular marijuana use is harmful and 25% of seniors have smoked marijuana in the past month (with 7% reportedly smoking it daily).

I can recall sitting in a seminar a number of years ago in which one of the nation’s leading experts on working with youth who had stabbed or shot an adult described the reality that most of the medications being prescribed for behavioral disorders (including, but certainly not limited to, ADD/ADHD) were developed for and tested on adults and there was absolutely no indication of what the long-term effects of the use of these drugs by children would be. I think in many ways we are still waiting to find out. In this instance–the recreational use of marijuana–it seems that we do know what the long-term effects will be: lower IQ and brain damage.

Are we being responsible as a society when we allow the legalization of something known to cause these results? Should the will of the people be followed even when what they want is not in their own best interest? Interesting questions which could yield a healthy and vigorous debate, no doubt.

Of course, one might argue–somewhat tongue in cheek–that those who use, or want to use, marijuana regularly already have brain damage and/or low IQs. Perhaps that’s all the more reason to “just say no”–they don’t have any brain cells to spare.

February 26, 2014

It doesn’t make any sense

You may not have noticed, but we are in the midst of an age in which laws are being selectively enforced and upheld. President Barack Obama famously announced early in his administration that his Justice Department would no longer enforce the Defense of Marriage Act or even defend it in court. Republicans in Congress took on the task of defending the law but last summer the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional. When they did so, however, they also left the matter of defining marriage to the states. With increasing frequency, however, states that have attempted to do just that have had those laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman struck down as unconstitutional.

Today Texas became the most recent victim of activist judges overstepping their authority and completely reinterpreting the Constitution. Judge Orlando L. Garcia of United States District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled that the amendment to the Texas constitution passed by voters in 2005 and defining marriage as between a man and a woman violated the United States Constitution. Why? Because, he said, it demeans the dignity of homosexuals “for no legitimate reason.”

Part of Garcia’s ruling reads like this: “Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution.” According to a article published today by the New York Times, however, the state of Texas had reasons for defining marriage as between a man and a woman. “The [state’s] lawyers denied that Texas’ laws were rooted in prejudice, linking the bills instead to the state’s interest in protecting traditional marriage to promote procreation and child-rearing by a mother and a father in ‘stable and enduring family units,'” the article said. Apparently Judge Garcia does not consider those to be “legitimate governmental purposes.”

The Times also reported that the two gay and lesbian couples who sued the state insisted that the state’s ban “perpetuated discrimination and put a financial, legal and emotional burden on homosexual couples.” Texas Representative Warren Chisum responded to that assertion by saying, “I’ve never made any statement that this bill did not discriminate. This bill does discriminate. It allows only for a man and a woman to be married in this state and be recognized in marriage in this state.”

Chisum is right on the mark. The problem is, discrimination is not automatically wrong. Almost every piece of legislation discriminates. “To discriminate” is simply another way of saying “to distinguish.” There are laws all across the country discriminating against people driving 90 miles per hour on the interstate or even 45 miles per hour in a school zone; laws discriminating against people who want to take merchandise from the store without paying for it; laws discriminating against people from buying alcohol before turning 21 or voting before turning 18; and, for now anyway, laws discriminating against people who want to be in government-sanctioned relationships made up of one man and two women or one person and one animal or one adult and one child. In other words, laws discriminate all the time; if they did not discriminate there would be no reason to have laws at all.

I have not read the case’s briefs so I do not know exactly how the homosexual couples who sued claimed to have experienced legal, financial or emotional burdens as a result of the Texas law, but I cannot imagine their reasoning would hold up under much legitimate scrutiny. Fortunately Judge Garcia was wise enough to stay his ruling pending the appeal that will no doubt be coming forthwith. Hopefully the judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, where the appeal will be heard, will actually read the Constitution and realize that it does not protect or entitle homosexual marriage.

The other laws you have no doubt been hearing about lately are those state laws that are allowing the recreational use of marijuana. Interestingly, the New York Times also has an article on that subject today. Rick Lyman’s article begins like this: “A little over a year after Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, more than half the states, including some in the conservative South, are considering decriminalizing the drug or legalizing it for medical or recreational use.”

What few people seem to be commenting on (though the Times did mention it) is that marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Article 6, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, often called the Supremacy Clause, reads, “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” There are many court decisions over the years that uphold the principle of the supremacy of federal law.

Why do I bring marijuana into the marriage discussion? Simply because both are examples of states making their own laws and in one instance they are permitted to violate the federal law without consequence and in another they are being told that the Constitution prohibits them from making their own laws even though it does not and even though nothing in the Constitution protects the right of homosexual marriage. Indeed given the absence of any federal definition of marriage the states clearly have the right to define it according to Amendment 10 of the Constitution.

In other words, states are permitted–even encouraged, I might say–to pass their own laws allowing what the federal law explicitly prohibits because the behavior being permitted is considered to be in line with a progressive or liberal change that those in power support. When states pass laws upholding or enforcing more traditional or conservative behaviors (like marriage) they are told they cannot do so. Here’s the bottom line: federal law prohibits the use of marijuana but states are allowed to permit it and federal law permits the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman but states are prohibited from thus defining it. We have a very real problem on our hands; laws no matter mean anything beyond what those in power want them to mean.

President Obama has, by way, provided additional evidence for his own impeachment in his handling of the state marijuana laws. Despite the clear federal prohibition of the use of marijuana the New York Times reports that the “Obama administration has said it will not interfere with the rollout of legal marijuana in the states, as long as it is kept out of the hands of minors.”

Interesting, is it not, that Judge Garcia denied that the people of Texas have a right to define marriage as between a man and a woman even though they said it was in part an effort to protect children, yet President Obama has invited states to ignore federal law so long as they protect children when they legalize marijuana.

Don’t try to make any sense of it…it simply doesn’t make any sense.

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