Le­gal­iz­ing pot: A view from a treat­ment cen­ter

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - OPINION - By Peter Schorr Times Guest Colum­nist Peter Schorr is founder and CEO of Re­treat Premier Ad­dic­tion Treat­ment Cen­ters.

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

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