Legalizing pot: A view from a treatment center
Since the start of the new millennium, support for legalized marijuana in America has grown exponentially.
In 2000, 31 percent of Americans supported legalization, according to Gallup. Nearly 20 years later, that number has doubled, rising to 62 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we’ve seen support of such a measure almost triple. Franklin and Marshall College found the percentage of Pennsylvania voters who support legalization increased from 22 percent in 2006 to 59 percent in 2017.
Across the country, 33 states have already legalized medical or recreational marijuana, and there’s no sign of this trend slowing down. Just take a look at our neighbors - New Jersey and New York are currently racing to the marijuana legalization finish line.
Here at home, Gov. Tom Wolf has vowed to “take a serious and honest look” at legalizing recreational marijuana. In fact, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is gearing up for a statewide listening tour that kicks off in Harrisburg. He’ll go county to county, soliciting the public’s views on legalizing recreational marijuana. We’re fully in support of his efforts. The only way to enact smart policies on behalf of the public is to hear voters out. But we should also stop and reflect on the potential impact of such a monumental step.
At Retreat Premier Addiction Treatment Centers, I oversee multiple facilities, including one in Lancaster County, that specialize in treating substance abuse, a disease that has shattered millions of families and claimed 72,000 lives in 2017 alone. While it’s true that marijuana itself isn’t lethal like opioids, we see consistent proof of its gateway drug potential. We have watched countless patients come through our doors seeking care, having first experimented with marijuana before turning to more life-threatening drugs like heroin or cocaine.
However, there is a compelling argument to be made for legalization. Nationwide, more than half of all annual drug arrests are over marijuana possession, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU also notes that black Americans are nearly four times as likely as their white counterparts to be arrested for possession.
I think we can all agree that it would be a better use of law enforcement’s precious time to pursue more serious drug offenses, like cracking down on all the highly toxic fentanyl slipping into our country from overseas, rather than locking people up for a small stash of marijuana.
Proponents say it’s high time to legalize, with some hoping to cash in, and others seeking an end to the disproportionate punishment of minorities. On the other, opponents — or those who have yet to form a conclusion — are biding their time. Doctors are calling for more empirical research about the consequences of mass legalization; worried parents want to know what it could mean for their kids.
This is a delicate, but crucial, inflection point in history, requiring us to be smart, cautious, and open-minded. Let’s have this important conversation and deliberate decision-making, lest we allow this opportunity to go up in smoke.
“I think we can all agree that it would be a better use of law enforcement’s precious time to pursue more serious drug offenses.”
— Peter Schorr