Later this week, Californians will vote on whether or not to legalize all marijuana production and consumption. The exact terms of proposition 19, would allow those over 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to 25 square feet of cannabis plants. Proponents of the referendum say that it will decrease the millions spent on drug enforcement, allow the state to gain tax revenue from its sale, and allow police to focus on violent crime. However, that does not change the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration from speaking out against the legalization of the drug. They say that the cost both economically and socially of approving the practice would be detrimental to us as a society, and would push back against the progress they and the Mexican Government have achieved in cutting down drug abuse not to mention causing unwanted mental and other healthcare issues for years to come.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that long term Marijuana use causes the brain to have some changes in circuity similar to that of other drugs. This begins with changes in dopamine neurons, which are involved in the regulation of motivation and reward, which increase in the receptors for Marijuana, causing possible addiction, “which leads to compulsive drug seeking and abuse despite the known harmful effects upon social functioning in the context of family, school, work, and recreational activities.” In Dr. Eaglemans article on Why Neuroscience and a Rational Drug Policy, he discusses the many others problems drug addicts face, and the many kinds of rehabilitation they have to go through to have an effective recovery. In light of the problems of recovering from an addiction, the use of Marijuana should be considered a much more dangerous activity than the proponents of proposition 19 make it out to be.
Given all of the debate about the issue from all sides, I think that the issue comes down to a few main points. On the one hand, Law Enforcement has approached the problem in a non sustainable way, as they have spent billions on enforcement and have watched prisons fill with addicted drug users, who have a high recidivism rate. Then on the other hand repeated Marijuana use has been repeatedly shown to lead to many problems to the brain, the lungs, the heart, not to mention the drastic social problems caused by its use. While proponents may compare its use to that of tobacco, even tobacco has brought almost half a million people die from problems related to tobacco use. Whatever supposed benefits Marijuana may have just does not seem to match up with the many problems which will be caused by its legalization and widespread use. A better approach would be to find ways to decrease marijuana use, not by incarceration only, but rather by a scientific approach based on neuroscience as advocated by Dr. Eagleman in his paper on Rational Drug Policy.