Proposition 64, also known as the Marijuana Legalization Initiative, not surprisingly passed statewide in November 2016 but wisely failed in Fresno County with 54 percent of the people voting against legalization. The district I represent strongly opposed Prop. 64.
It now allows individuals 21 years or older to legally smoke marijuana and to grow up to six plants in their home, even if they are next to elementary schools. What many people don’t know is that Prop. 64 also allows recreational marijuana dispensaries or businesses to be opened throughout the state unless a municipality officially prohibits or bans them, which a majority of the Fresno City Council and mayor wisely did last month.
While I support medicinal marijuana for people who are truly ill, I’m concerned that recreational marijuana advocates, in their zeal to have unrestricted access to this drug, overlook important studies that have documented the many potential dangers of this drug.
Adolescents clearly go through many biological, developmental and social changes as they grow. Young people’s brains are still developing until their mid 20s. We know from numerous clinical studies that smoking marijuana affects their memory, ability to learn and focus, and can decrease neuropsychological functioning.
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Kids who are smoking marijuana also have poor school performance, higher rates of absenteeism and increased mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. We also know that ongoing usage of marijuana with any user can pose risks for immune-system damage, birth defects, cardiovascular disease, stroke, respiratory problems and lung cancer.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that “When people begin using marijuana as teenagers, the drug may reduce thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how brain builds connections between the areas necessary for functions. Marijuana’s effects on these abilities may last a long time or even be permanent.”
It cites a Duke University study demonstrating loss of IQ points in teens with heavy marijuana usage.
The legalization of marijuana has sent the terrible message to young people that getting high is not a problem and is sanctioned by the state. Following Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, there’s been a rise in youth arrests, disciplinary problems in school, and numerous medical problems associated with its usage.
NIDA notes that edibles have become popular. These take longer to digest and produce a high which can have very harmful and dangerous effects. By allowing the legal ease of acquiring this drug, we would be contributing to the destruction of so many young people in our city.
Many who are for Prop. 64 cite all the revenue it will generate. Some foolishly believe that this revenue, “drug money” as I refer to it, would be beneficial to pay for municipal services.
What they fail to understand is that by allowing these recreational dispensaries and the promotion of marijuana usage only brings with it numerous added costs, burden, and consequences that will offset any drug money revenues.
With the increase of marijuana usage, there will be increased drugged driving and fatal car accidents. Despite this, there is no specific protocol for determining if a driver is impaired due to marijuana usage.
There will clearly be need for greater law enforcement, which has major and significant costs. Marijuana dispensaries already have and will always be a prime target for robberies and increased criminal behavior, which will further increase demands on law enforcement and make the neighborhoods unsafe where these dispensaries exist.
There will also be increased need for medical care and drug treatment programs.
All too often, the rise in drug usage is seen in poorer neighborhoods. One of the official arguments against Prop. 64 was made by Bishop Ron Allen of the International Faith Based Coalition which represents 5,000 inner-city churches.
Bishop Allen called Prop.64 an “attack on minorities” and asked, “Why are there no limits on the number of pot shops that can be opened in poor neighborhoods? We will now have a string of pot shops to go with the two liquor stores on every block, but we still can’t get a grocery store. Proposition 64 will make every parent’s job tougher.”
If the Fresno City Council had allowed these recreational marijuana dispensaries to sprout up throughout our community, where would it end? One can reasonably ask, if marijuana is now legal and we can generate government money for that drug, why not legalize opiates, heroin or cocaine and make a lot more money?
The weakening of our drug laws that now allow marijuana to be used and sold recreationally in conjunction with the weakening of our criminal laws, such as Propositions 57, 47, and AB 109, have continued to make our communities unsafe.
Adding to this slippery slope of further societal decay is the legalizing of marijuana ,which we know will only cause tremendous damage to our youth, problems in our schools and workplaces, increased crime and traffic accidents/fatalities, and make our neighborhoods unsafe.
It’s time to stop the decline. The City Council members did this when they wisely turned away recreational marijuana dispensaries.
Garry Bredefeld is a psychologist who represents District 6 on the Fresno City Council. Connect with him at 621-8000 or District6@fresno.gov.