This article was written by Kevin Thom, Sheriff of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office in western South Dakota.
With Colorado and Washington legalizing marijuana for personal use, and other states now permitting consumption of the drug for “medical” purposes, it makes sense to pose a key question: Is pot safe?
My answer is a resounding “No.”
Throughout my 36-year career in law enforcement, I have witnessed the often-devastating impacts of drug abuse from a front-row seat. The pro-marijuana lobby calls it a harmless plant. But statistics and experience tell us otherwise, and marijuana already has had a profound negative impact on society.
- Fatal and serious injury accidents involving drivers high on marijuana increase in states that have medical or legalized marijuana. During the first six months of 2013, Washington State Troopers saw a 49 percent jump in positive tests for marijuana among drivers stopped for suspicion of DUI.
- The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 50 percent of all on-the-job accidents and up to 40 percent of employee thefts are related to drug abuse.
- Popular among youth, marijuana is a complicated, addictive drug that disrupts children’s brain development when used habitually. London’s Institute of Psychiatry estimated that at least 25,000 schizophrenics in the United Kingdom could have avoided the illness if they had not used cannabis.
- Repeated marijuana use also adversely affects the lungs, liver, heart and reproductive organs.
Legalizing marijuana for “medicinal” use has so far been the most common policy step taken by states. There are marijuana derivatives used for legitimate medical treatment, based on scientific evidence. But most often the case for medical marijuana is rooted in anecdotal examples, not science.
And let’s be honest. For all their claims about wanting to use legalized weed to help the sick and dying, what the pro-pot folks really want is full legalization of their favorite drug. To get there they are spreading misinformation about its benefits and irresponsibly minimizing its risks.
Proponents also proclaim that legalizing marijuana can generate millions in tax revenue for government, a windfall many elected officials apparently find enticing. What they fail to acknowledge is this disturbing statistic: For every $1 in tax revenue generated by marijuana sales, it’s estimated that society will pay $10 to deal with the health impacts of marijuana use.
Marijuana supporters justify legalization by noting that two other potentially dangerous substances, alcohol and tobacco, are legal, so we shouldn’t fear adding weed to the list.
Alcohol kills 100,000 people annually, while tobacco kills another 500,000. Legal drugs are the largest contributors to health care costs in our country.
I am not suggesting we lock up every person who occasionally uses small amounts of marijuana. Jail alternatives, such as probation, community service or mandatory drug treatment, are appropriate for these offenders.
I understand that effective drug policy requires three core components: education/prevention, enforcement and treatment.
Proponents argue that legalizing marijuana would possibly reduce prices and thereby decrease criminal activity by users seeking to support their habit.
In fact, the black market for pot will not vanish, but bleed into other states. Already, black market marijuana from Colorado is turning up for sale in South Dakota.
Fortunately, those of us who call South Dakota home are not naive. And I’m confident that when our state is again asked to legalize marijuana for “medicinal” or personal use, we won’t fall for the smoke screen (intentional pun) perpetuated by those who foolishly claim it’s harmless for everyone to get high.
Prior to being elected to serve Pennington County in 2010, Sheriff Thom spent the prior 32 years serving in other South Dakota law enforcement agencies. One of the agencies, the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, gave the Sheriff many years of training and experience as a drug investigator. He served as director of the agency for 3 1/2 years before retiring and preparing for the next phase of public service.