Opinion
10:59 am
Mon May 6, 2013

The downsides to legalizing marijuana

This week, police in Grand Rapids began a pilot program to treat marijuana possession as a civil infraction. This comes six months after voters approved an amendment to decriminalize pot.

In Michigan, if you've got an aching back or live in Grand Rapids or Ann Arbor, there’s less reason to feel like marijuana will get you into trouble.

For better or worse, pot is gaining acceptance. Our state is one of 20 in the U.S. where marijuana is either OK for medical use or decriminalized. In Washington state and Colorado, recreational use is legal. Increasingly, there are American communities like Grand Rapids where voters don’t want to spend time and money prosecuting offenders caught with a bag of weed.

True, under federal law pot is a Schedule 1 substance - still illegal.  And some dispensaries here are feeling the heat as the state Supreme Court recently ruled they can be shut down as a public nuisance.

Even though controversy continues, there seems to be a growing attitude that says “pot’s not so bad.”

No doubt, medical marijuana - which we voted in 4.5 years ago - contributed to the cultural shift. After all, if pot is viewed as a good way to reduce pain for chronic ailments, it may not be a huge step to accept it as a recreational drug. Maybe these changes are inevitable because there are benefits to ending the era of reefer madness.

However, that evolving view needs to include public health. The question is: If marijuana is more available than it is now, can we handle it? Anti-marijuana advocates say no. They argue pot is more potent than ever - highly addictive, even dangerous. That’s probably overstating the case, but they make a point. If we continue down this path, we’ll have more people using and abusing.

For the record, I’m not opposed to marijuana itself. Honestly, I appreciate how much more fun it made watching the movie "Fantasia," but I’m uncomfortable with the availability of legal pot.

Criminalizing marijuana, for all its detriments, has reduced consumption. Legalizing it will bring ramifications, like more Americans who are high, or things like texting while driving while stoned.

I fear we haven’t yet arrived at the real conversation. We’re talking about medical benefits and the legal process. But we’re not talking enough about the impact legal pot could have on health, addiction and what will surely be our collective need for treatment.

If you see pot as even somewhat similar to alcohol, it’s fair to ask, are we really ready for a world in which we can go down to the 7-Eleven and buy a pack of joints? No joke. In other places, vending machines for pot exist or are on the way.

If it happens here, it could be an accessible high that will bring us to a new low.