In spite of the widespread effort to normalize marijuana, Montana knows firsthand the societal problems it can cause. In effect this crusade of acceptability has undone years of “zero tolerance” and the “drug free” campaign in our schools and communities.
Most legalizers agree that marijuana is dangerous for adolescents, and argue that it will still be illegal for them. But it’s those young adults the industry targets. They are the primary users, consuming the majority of illegal drugs and suffer the most from its long term consequences.
Montana passed an initiative to legalize marijuana for medical purpose. The industry exploded and became a multi-million dollar operation. By 2011 Montana had the 6th highest rate of youth marijuana use in the country and the 4th highest rate of youth addiction.
As a state legislator I was inundated with complaints from cities, towns, communities, law enforcement officials, treatment centers and schools about disruption, safety, crime, dropout rates, students stoned and apathetic toward school and life in general. This new enterprise was making drugs so familiar and acceptable that it was changing Montana’s culture. Montanans felt duped. Come to find out the initiative was promoted and paid for by the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization whose purpose is for the total legalization of the drug.
I heard of growers destroying neighborhoods, reducing the values of homes and the foul language, harassment, and stench of crowds at the dispensaries. Parents complained that kids could not play in their own yards. Multiple dispensaries set up near schools, targeting our youth.
Students wrote asking who was defending their rights to a safe, drug free school. They wanted their friends back. Major industries in Montana reported the inability to find job applicants who didn’t test positive for drugs.
Montana’s Chief of Narcotics testified, “The current situation is a public health and safety disaster as well as a law enforcement nightmare . . . and an embarrassment to Montana on a national level.” He said Montana was growing so much marijuana it had become a “source country” for illegal export of the drug. Organized crime moved in and one of the world’s largest outlaw motorcycle gangs was involved in running drugs to their east coast counterparts. Our surrounding states did not consider us good neighbors.
The 2011 Montana legislature reined in the exploding marijuana industry, curbing commercial grows.
The Office of National Drug Policy recently stated that the “confusing messages being presented by popular culture, media, proponents of ‘medical’ marijuana, and political campaigns to legalize all marijuana perpetuate the false notion that marijuana is harmless.”
Marijuana is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning that it has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in treatment. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reports that where marijuana laws have been relaxed throughout the world, marijuana usage and addiction rates go up. That was certainly the case in Montana.
THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, chemically acts on specific molecular targets in brain cells called cannabinoid receptors, part of a neural communication network. It replaces the natural reward system in the brain, the same as other addictive drugs. Extensive medical research has shown marijuana affects brain development of this network when used regularly by young people and can cause permanent cognitive damage and also permanently reduce IQ.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports the negative effects of marijuana can last for days or weeks after the acute effects wear off and “someone who smokes marijuana daily may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level most or all of the time.” A grave concern when you think of an impaired surgeon, airline pilot or heavy equipment operator.
It’s no surprise that increased marijuana use is associated with lower grades, higher dropout rates, increased absences and tardiness in school and the workplace, work related accidents, compensation claims, job turnovers and crime.
There’s an illogical deluge of propaganda out there. Facts tend to get shouted down by those pressing for legalization. It leaves one to wonder if we are not only losing the war on drugs but the war on common sense.
Mike Milburn served as a Montana State Representative from 2005-2012 and served as Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives in 2011 and 2012.