I am writing out of concern for the Press of Atlantic City’s recent remarks over the issue of cannabis legalization. Saying there is “no rush to legalize marijuana” is like saying there is no rush to launch a healthier and stronger society. Editors for Press of AC seem uninformed and fearful about legalization. 2016 will be an important year, with seven legalization bills already prepared, while federal prohibition will depend on the next U.S. President. America hit a “turning point” in 2013, when more than half of all Americans (58 percent) favored legalization. The “tipping point” came in 2014, when for the first time ever the majority of Americans lived in states with some form of marijuana legality. To be against legalization now is to be against the majority of the country.
NJ can profit greatly from the economic benefits of legalization. AC City Council members are not holding back about needing the money to keep the city up and running, and they shouldn’t be shy to talk about what has been called the “Green Rush.” “We have the opportunity to build the city of the future. If we miss the opportunity, somebody else will take it,” Evan Sanchez of “thisisAC” told Philly.com This is precisely right: in just another year, NJ legalization will not appeal to tourists because by then other states will have passed recreational laws.
Opponents of Legalization
For some reason the AC Press felt it was significant that county prosecutors were against legalization, as if this didn’t happen in nearly every single state. Back in April 2014, the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association (NJSMPA) endorsed a NJ legalization bill that allowed people 21 years of age or older to possess up to an ounce of cannabis and grow up to six plants in the home. President Barr of NJSMPA was quoted saying the money spent trying these cases was “silly,” noting that local prosecutors were responsible for the majority of marijuana cases. (NJ.com) In February 2015, NJSMPA was one of several groups to join the coalition, New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform (NJUMR). Another law enforcement group part of the coalition calling for legalization is Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group made up of retired police officials against the War on Drugs. Retired State Police Narcotics Detective Lt. Dominck Bucci of LEAP looked over decades of marijuana busts and stated at the November 16, 2015, Senate hearing: “I can’t help thinking I let people down.” Bucci also said: “I’ve spent most of my career fighting the failed war on drugs, and I have seen the message that enforcement of our harsh marijuana law sends: if we catch you experimenting, we will do everything we can to ruin your future.” Legalization and decriminalization advocates emphasize that legalization would give police more time and resources to focus on real crimes or emergencies.
The editors also thought Christie’s opposition was magical enough to bring the debate to an end. As for Gov. Christie, the latest Fairleigh Dickinson University poll for NJ (November 2015) showed only 34 percent of respondents approved of the job Christie was doing as governor, while 56 percent disapproved. Christie’s ratings have broken down to new lows more than once over the past year. Meanwhile, state polls have shown more and more people support marijuana legalization. In June 2015, a Rutgers-Eagelton poll showed 58 percent of New Jerseyans supported cannabis legalization, up from 49 percent the year before. (Other polls showed only 49 percent in favor of legalization, but every poll in 2015 no doubt showed an increase for favoring legalization.) Regardless, it has become embarrassingly obvious that more people in the Garden State favor legalization over Chris Christie, as shown in the July 2015 article of Politics U.S.A. “New Jersey Voters Would Rather Legalize Pot Than Vote For Chris Christie Again.”
Christie is not as tough on cannabis as AC Press thinks. He has tried to look his toughest against recreational cannabis in the national spotlight, but he has in fact made changes in the Garden State’s marijuana laws, even after he promised not to. In September 2013, he signed a bill that allowed cannabis growers to sell more than just three strains of weed, and also allowed the sale of edibles – “but to pediatric patients only.” Then, after again promising to make no more changes to NJ’s marijuana laws, Christie passed a bill in November 2015, the nation’s first-ever bill protecting children with developmental disabilities to consume their medical cannabis on school property.
Editors of AC Press also felt it was necessary to say, “NIH [National Institutes of Health] says more research is needed.” It is appalling to hear such views in 2016. Telling cannabis consumers “more research is needed” is akin to government officials telling civil rights workers in the 1960s to “wait” for progress. But Martin Luther King, Jr. had to explain to them,”Why We Can’t Wait.” NJ’s economy and social health will self-implode before NIH finally says no more research is needed. The DEA licenses certain pharmaceutical companies to annually produce a small supply of Schedule 1 Drugs for research purposes. DEA has the choice to produce what it deems to be in the “public interest,” which in the past has meant fewer studies done on marijuana. The only legal marijuana grower under the eyes of the DEA is the University of Mississippi that operates under contract to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an arm of the federal National Institutes of Health (NIH). DEA limits the growth, however, making it difficult for researchers to get their hands on the right amount of cannabis. Potential researchers not only have to go through the typical FDA and DEA scrutiny of testing Schedule 1 drugs, but also through NIDA and Public Health Service to test cannabis. The FDA and DEA have to respond in 90 days to requests, but NIDA and Public Health Service have no response deadline. This means, “studies unlikely to show negative health effects from marijuana use are nearly always denied or delayed to death by NIDA and the Public Health Service.” (Barcott, Weed the People, 97)
Here is what happened the last time NIH found medical benefits from marijuana. NIH’s pharmacology department discovered cannabinoids “are found to have particular application” for limiting neurological damage following stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and HIV dementia. NIH scientists enjoyed the fact that cannabidiol (CBD) didn’t have THC’s psychotropic side effects. Ironically, they liked the idea so much that NIH applied for and was granted the patent on the medical use of CBD, while keeping cannabis as a Schedule 1 Drug. See U.S. Patent No. 6630507.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) enacted a constraint unique to cannabis, making it against HHS policy to conduct any research that could lead to smoked cannabis being a licensed drug. The agency’s “Guidance on Procedures for the Provision of Cannabis for Medical Research” was released on May 21, 1999, and remains into effect today. It’s not just difficult to be granted permission to study marijuana. “It’s federally illegal to engage in science that could, in theory, lead to the permissible use of smoked marijuana for any medical condition.” (Barcott, 99) Author Bruce Barcott admitted that he previously joined in on proposing the main arguments against recreational legalization based off lack of scientific research: “It’s too risky. We just don’t know enough.” Barcott followed by writing: “I’ve spoken those words myself. At the same time, it appeared that the federal government was actively blocking the effort to fill in those knowledge gaps, to the point where federal agencies had done something truly Orwellian. They had made scientific inquiry illegal.” (99-100, Barcott)
Alcohol Is Worse
AC Press editors released their opinion on December 28, 2015. That same day, three other newspapers released articles in support of legalization, including Slate.com, The Trentonian, Huffington Post. The Huffington Post released the article, “Here’s How Many People Fatally Overdosed On Marijuana Last Year.” With tongue in cheek, the article amusingly read: “The rate of absolutely zero deaths from a marijuana overdose remained steady from last year.” As if to say, yes, prohibition of a non-lethal plant is idiotic. Yet, “A total of 17,465 people died from overdosing on illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine last year, while 25,760 people died from overdosing on prescription drugs, including painkillers and tranquilizers like Valium.” Alcohol overdoses broke a 35-year record of 30,700, without including alcohol-related deaths like drunk driving or accidents (which would have risen the death-toll two-and-a-half times higher).
Alcohol consumption has way more social problems that marijuana ever could. Alcohol is involved in 2/3 of all domestic abuse cases. More than one third of sexual assault victims reported the offender was drinking around the time of assault, resulting in roughly 100,000 sexual assaults among young people each year. (Mason tvert, xiv) The Justice Department estimated that alcohol was involved in one third to half of all murders in the U.S. (Barcott, 240) More than 40 percent of murderers in jail or state prison reported they were drinking at the time of their offenses, and nearly half of those convicted for assault reported to be drinking when the offenses took place. (Mason 29) A 2011 study from World Health Organization (WHO) claimed alcohol is responsible for 4 percent of all world-wide deaths – outnumbering AIDS, tuberculosis, or violence. (mason 25) In short, when people drink they become aggressive and more willing to hurt people. In contrast, cannabis reduces aggressiveness and risks of violence.
People have a relatively narrow safety margin when drinking, which explains the ease young people and adults have for overdosing. An American Journal of Preventive Medicine study from 2011 observed that excessive alcohol consumption led to 79,000 premature deaths each year in the nation, in contrast to the zero reported deaths of marijuana. NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism wrote that 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related incidents. (Barcott, 241) Population surveys estimated that 10 percent of Americans suffer from alcoholism, and as many as one in three Americans suffer from “alcohol use disorder” (sustained periods of over-consumption) at some point in their lives. A 2004 study in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) labeled alcohol the third highest killer in America, trailing only tobacco smoking and poor dieting. Once again, marijuana resulted in zero deaths that year. An administrative law judge of the DEA concluded in 1988: “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.” (mason, 32)
Alcohol poses numerous threats to body organs and health in general. A 2009 British study found that alcohol consumption led to increased risks of breast cancer for women. The report found that in the U.S., as many as 5 percent of all cancers diagnosed in women annually were likely caused by low to moderate alcohol consumption. Molly Siple, in her book Eating for Recovery, claimed alcohol consumption promoted angina, brain degeneration, ulcers, cirrhosis (alcohol abuse led to 12,000 liver-related fatalities in U.S. annually), decreased testosterone production, compromised immunity, heart disease, hypertension, hypoglycemia, increased cancer risk, poor digestion, osteoporosis, inflamed pancreas, psoriasis, and psychiatric disorders. Currently marijuana is legal in some form in 23 states, more than half treat cancer with cannabis. But alcohol is related to both increased incidences of cancer as well as promoting the spread of cancer.
This brings us to Colorado’s “Marijuana is Safer than Alcohol” campaign from 2005-2012, led by Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER). SAFER’s message is extremely important here because it debunks all of the points brought up by AC Press editors. SAFER recognized the most important point in the marijuana debate was the emphasis on getting people to understand that legalizing cannabis would NOT be like adding another vice to society. SAFER argues “marijuana is safer than alcohol” and claims that making marijuana available “could actually reduce the use of a more harmful substance.” (mason, 124) Therefore, “the fact that alcohol causes so many problems in our society is not a reason to keep pot illegal; rather, it is the reason we must make it legal.” (127) Currently the majority of people are too scared to smoke cannabis, out of fear of losing their jobs from drug tests at the workplace. This is because cannabis can stay in the system for a few days, unlike alcohol and cocaine that can be flushed from the body within a day. But this only “encouraged” the use of alcohol that has led to a society of greater likelihood of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and other forms of violence that have major negative health outcomes for society and its citizens in general. Marijuana is not another vice; it removes other vices. Unless AC Press is prepared to call for the arrest for those who use a more harmful substance that leads to sexual assault and violence, then I ask it to stop demanding the arrests of people who use a safer alternative to alcohol.
There are now more than 20,000 published studies and papers available in the scientific literature analyzing cannabis, it’s constituents, and their effects on people. (mason 16) Medical Marijuana (MMJ) laws began alone in California in 1996, and then expanded to 20 states in 2013, reaching 23 states by 2015. By 2013, when 58 percent of the nation supported legalization, about 77 percent believed marijuana had medical value and 83 percent though doctors should be able to prescribe limited amounts to severely ill patients. Conditions treated, healed and relieved by cannabis include cancer, epilepsy, nausea, glaucoma, Lou Gehrig’s disease, PTSD and hundreds of other conditions. It can reduce involuntary muscle spasms such as multiple sclerosis. Marijuana can help induce sleep, alleviate tics associated with Tourette’s Syndrome, and significantly reduce pain and inflammation, particularly neuropathy (a nerve pain difficult to treat with standard analgesics). Marijuana also contains strong antioxidant properties that can protect the brain during trauma (marijuana can prevent brain damage from strokes, traumatic brain injury, and ironically, alcohol poisoning) and potentially ward off the onset of diseases like Alzherimers. (mason 35) It can also treat asthma, because unlike tobacco smoke, cannabis smoke acts as a bronchodilator.
The Press of AC also feared the consequences of “long-term consumption.” Fortunately, Western Democracies have reported on cannabis for most of the latter half of the 20th century. A population study showed those who consumed cannabis were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those polled who didn’t smoke cannabis. THC also reportedly limited the spread of multidrug -resistant infections such as MRSA, known as the Super Bug, which was responsible for roughly 20,000 hospital-stay-related deaths annually. A French study found marijuana smokers were less likely to be obese than non-smokers. (Barcott, 188) A 2012 study published in JAMA showed that lifetime, moderate cannabis smokers (one joint per day for seven years, or a joint per week for 49 years) was not associated with adverse effects on pulmonary function. (mason, 65) Of course, smokers can choose to be as safe as they want by just using a vaporizer so as to remove all unwanted elements. Most spectacular of all, several studies over a span of decades showed that cannabis smokers are less likely to develop cancer than people who never smoked before. U.S. officials first learned of marijuana’a anti-cancer properties in 1974, but not a single follow-up study was conducted on this subject! (37) In 2006, results for the “largest case-control study ever to investigate the respiratory effects of marijuana smoking” reported that pot use was not associated with cancers, even from subjects who smoked more than 22,000 joints in their lifetime. (mason, 65)
Unfortunately, Press of AC threw up dubious medical studies on cannabis from NIH, questioning the possible health risks. AC Press quoted the “considerable evidence” from NIH’s study on higher student drop out rates among smokers,and also brought into question the subjects of “future drug dependence, workplace accidents and suicide attempts to regular marijuana use, and the NIH says more research is needed.” Sure, it can be said that more research is needed, but couldn’t the state legalize cannabis, then reasonably explain all the risks and dangers involved when selling cannabis, like it would with ANY other type of “drug” (even caffeine is considered a drug). At the same time the state could rake in millions of dollars through cannabis taxes, and devote certain percentages of taxes to research, drug rehab centers and other drug prevention programs that the state currently tries to send people through after destroying their lives with a criminal record. Why are we pretending that cannabis is the first “drug” ever to possibly have certain unwanted risks?
Colorado currently has a 15 percent excise tax on cannabis (several million dollars each year) that is strictly devoted to public school infrastructure. Students are therefore receiving huge educational funds and benefits, while being unable to legally purchase cannabis. But for those who choose to experiment with cannabis on their own, a 2007 study from Archives of General Psychiatry concluded that overall academic performance is generally unaffected by consuming cannabis. Government polls reveal that roughly 90 percent of teenagers claim marijuana is easy to get. Unlike alcohol, however, the young students don’t need a license and are able to purchase cannabis even easier. Perhaps people concerned about mental abilities should focus on alcohol’s effects. A 2008 report revealed that heavy alcohol drinking decreased total brain volume, a condition associated with impaired learning, memory skills and dementia. (mason 30) Numerous reports over the last decade show that marijuana doesn’t have a long-term negative impact on intelligence. (mason 69)
Over 100,000 million U.S. citizens, nearly 42 percent over the age of 12, smoked weed at least once, and 11 percent consume it annually. Marijuana addiction is very mild, ranging from 7-9 percent addiction rates. This is nothing compared to heroine (23 percent addiction rate), cocaine (17 percent), and alcohol (15 percent). Tobacco leads all of them, with one of every three people getting addicted after trying it once. Cigarettes cause 440,000 deaths every year. Another 46,000 die from alcohol-related causes. About 3,000 die from heroine. Nearly 17,000 die from prescription opiods like Oxycontin. And zero died from marijuana. (Barcott, 159) Unless tobacco, alcohol, and these other drugs become illegal, marijuana shouldn’t remain under prohibition.
Currently in NJ there is a huge epidemic of heroine overdoses, and it “eclipses homicide, suicide, car accidents and AIDS as a cause of death in the state.” There were 741 heroine overdoses in the state in 2013, rising to 781 in 2014. Just like with alcohol and prescription pills, cannabis is a safer alternative than heroine. Cannabis legalization would not only provide cannabis as an alternative, but would once again fund current drug rehabs and expand drug treatment centers through regulation and taxation.
There are more studies showing cannabis helps people cope with depression than not. A 2014 American Public Journal of Health study showed medical cannabis was able to reduce suicide rates by five percent among the general population, and by 10 percent for young males. The study’s authors concluded that in states with legal medical marijuana, the suicide rate for males aged 20-29 decreased 10.9 percent, and for men aged 30-39 they saw a decrease of 9.4 percent.
As for problems in the workplace, cannabis legalization wouldn’t effect employment any different than when alcohol prohibition ended. Both are banned from being consumed at the work place, but should be available to workers during their off-hours. Blood testing is just one way for employers to better determine if someone is high on the job than a urine analysis, and no doubt other ideas will go through a trial-and-error phase.
Press of AC seem too frightened to take the first step in the right direction. The editors openly support the “experiment” of legalization in the four states that have legalized recreational cannabis, but a handful of editors for some reason are asking millions of New Jersyans to wait “several years at a minimum, and possibly a generation or two,” before starting our own great experiment. This can only come off as nonsense to the large wave of young people in the Millennial Generation who have known all along that cannabis is safe, and who also desperately seek work in an underemployed economy. No, we won’t wait any longer. Thousands of people arrested annually, particularly poor minorities, should not stop fighting for the freedom to ingest what they choose without being thrown in jail. Thousand of medical patients should not die waiting for proper medicine or accept inferior and dangerous pharmaceuticals. No, millions of New Jerseyans should not wait for the “health sciences [to] continue their research before considering whether to legalize marijuana.”
Bruce Barcott wrote: “The shaming and stigmatization of pot users has gone hand in hand with draconian sentencing laws and mass incarceration. How could the outrageous prison terms be justified if not by the shameful character and nefarious choices of the marijuana smoker?” (weed, 316) By supporting prohibition, AC Press is spreading that same stigmatization. Cannabis was made illegal for political reasons. AC Press should realize prohibition itself tended to “gamble with the health of many citizens and to some extent of society itself in hope of” profiteering off mass incarceration. Cannabis should not be a Schedule 1 Drug. The National Committee on Marihuana and Drug Abuse released one of the most comprehensive study’s of marijuana all the way back in 1972, titled, “Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding.” The report determined “there is little proven danger of physical or psychological harm” from cannabis; “cannabis does not lead to physical dependence”; the “overwhelming majority of marihuana users do not progress to other drugs”; and “marihuana was usually found to inhibit the expression of aggressive impulses by pacifying the user.” The Commission essentially called for decriminalization and requested it be removed as a Schedule 1 Drug. But President Nixon ignored the Commission’s advice and did the complete opposite. Under Nixon marijuana arrests increased from 119,000 in 1969 to 445,000 in 1974.