ANGELINI: Don't ignore fact marijuana is addictive, destructive drug

Our great friend and partner, Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, executive director of Prevention First, wrote this opinion piece for the Asbury Park. Her words are part one of a two part series about the possible risks of marijuana legalization in New Jersey.

Don't ignore fact marijuana is addictive, destructive drug

by Mary Pat Angelini

Imagine for a minute a world in which marijuana is available in a vending machine or corner grocery store near you — like any other snack machine — pot-infused lollipops, gummy candies, baked goods and beverages available at the push of a button.

As futuristic as this far fetched tale sounds, this is Colorado’s reality, a state with the dubious distinction of becoming the first to legalize marijuana, which has helped spawn legalization efforts across the U.S., including in New Jersey.

And while Colorado’s experiment has sparked heated debate over drug legalization, a critical and unbiased look at the data clearly shows that marijuana legalization has serious and far-reaching consequences that far outweigh any of its alleged benefits.

Strong emotions on both sides of this issue should not obscure the facts. Marijuana is an addictive substance that is harmful to users, especially to its younger users.

As a teen’s brain development is disturbed by chronic marijuana use, the risk for physical and psychological dependency grows exponentially.

In addition to permanently affecting brain functioning, marijuana use can lead to a wide array of negative consequences, ranging from lower grades and isolation from family to an increased risk of psychotic symptoms, depression and suicide.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, legalization will cause a substantial increase in economic and social costs.

The expansion of drug use will increase crime committed under the influence of drugs, as well as family violence, vehicular crashes, work-related injuries and a variety of health-related problems. These new costs will far outweigh any income from taxes on drugs.

Few would argue that a drug that can cause such destruction is something that we should counsel people to avoid. However, legalization efforts do just the opposite.

In fact, experience has shown that when drugs are legalized, drug use increases because the perception of harm is reduced.

Moreover, the Drug Enforcement Agency has estimated that legalization could double or even triple the amount of marijuana users.

While it is hard to fathom the societal impact of an additional 17 million to 34 million marijuana users, it is safe to assume that those who profit from legalization have calculated the impact on their bottom line.

Those in favor of legalization often fail to tell you that levels of drug use have gone down substantially since the 1970s when the “war” on drugs began. This is not to say that our drug laws, including those governing marijuana, are not in need of reform.

For instance, the effort to place more drug users into treatment instead of prison is a positive development, both for those struggling with addiction and for taxpayers.

However, reforming and improving our drug laws does not mean we should abandon our fight against the use of illegal drugs like marijuana.

On the contrary, the more we learn about effective methods of combating drug use, the more we learn that legalization is not the answer, and is, in fact, very much part of the problem.

Mary Pat Angelini is a Republican assemblywoman whose 11th District includes portions of Monmouth County. She is executive director of Prevention First.

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