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Tusla DA Argues Against Legalization of Marijuana

Aug 10, 2014 | by Lynn Powell

Kids will see marijuana use as fun without consequences. The use of the word “medicine” is often tied to the discussion of marijuana use. This description of marijuana as medicine sends the wrong message that will boomerang on our kids if not defined more clearly.

During my 28 years of prosecution of crime in both the adult and juvenile system, it is impossible to recount the human tragedy of people whose lives were affected by drug and alcohol abuse. More often than not, marijuana was the “gateway” drug that put people on the path to the use of harder and more addictive drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin or prescription drugs.

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Many believe that reform to drug laws is appropriate, and I welcome that debate. I believe we need to continue to explore evidence-based prevention, access to treatment, and alternatives to incarceration. But substance abuse is a public health issue, as well as a criminal justice problem. I do not believe that legalization of marijuana solves the issues raised in the debate on drug policy.

We must consider the public health problems associated with increased availability of marijuana. A review of some of the facts cited by the Office of National Drug Control Policy is important for people to consider before they decide this issue.

Fact: Drugged driving is a threat to our roadways and personal safety. Marijuana significantly impairs coordination and reaction time. We prosecute criminal cases for injuries and deaths caused by drug–related DUIs as well as alcohol-related collisions. The numbers are frightening.

More than 20 percent of our criminal caseload has some relation to alcohol use and abuse. The pain and suffering caused by intoxicated drivers who crash into others results in devastation — physically, mentally and emotionally. The impact on victims and families often is not understood until it happens to your own family or friends.

Why support a decision that would only increase the number of drivers on the roadway who are impaired, thereby increasing our odds of being hurt or killed in a collision?

Fact: Marijuana use affects the developing brain. Studies have shown impairment of development in some regions of the brain following prolonged marijuana use that began in adolescence or young adulthood.

We all want the next generation to achieve what we were not able to achieve. Legalization of marijuana will only create an atmosphere where adolescents perceive its use as condoned and encouraged.

Kids will see marijuana use as fun without consequences. The use of the word “medicine” is often tied to the discussion of marijuana use. This description of marijuana as medicine sends the wrong message that will boomerang on our kids if not defined more clearly.

During my 28 years of prosecution of crime in both the adult and juvenile system, it is impossible to recount the human tragedy of people whose lives were affected by drug and alcohol abuse. More often than not, marijuana was the “gateway” drug that put people on the path to the use of harder and more addictive drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin or prescription drugs.

The opportunity to get bored with one high and experiment with another high is created by associations with others who abuse drugs. People become like those with whom they associate. My mom’s warnings turned out to be true, although I didn’t want to believe it at the time.

During the five years I worked juvenile deprived children cases for the DA’s office, most scenarios included young children living in environments where drug use, child neglect and abuse were the common denominators. These children did not choose this environment.

Adults made choices to use marijuana and other drugs, and the child did not have the power to reject those choices. Those choices to use drugs — and marijuana is a drug — left a situation where money obtained by drug addicts went toward feeding their addiction. The result often was homes without food, running water, electricity or paid rent.

The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs estimated that in 2011 as many as 84 percent of the children in Oklahoma foster care come from homes where one or both parents are drug addicts, many admitting they started with marijuana as teenagers.

At a time when America’s place in the world in terms of academic and economic competiveness is greatly threatened can we afford to be a “stoned America” and expect to compete?

I hope as we debate this issue that we will admit that there are those hoping to profit from a nationwide cannabis industry as large and powerful as the alcohol and tobacco businesses. The state of Colorado has decided to use the money generated from marijuana sales to be their new tax generator. That experiment and its results are yet to be seen. To think that legalization will do away with the “black market” is a myth.

Many will read and criticize my position, and I respect their views. They haven’t walked a mile in my shoes and seen what I have seen as a prosecutor. As we make decisions for our future, I hope those decisions move us forward and make us better, not worse.

Lowering our standards or expectations has never produced what we thought it would. Let’s not make that mistake as we consider how we, as Oklahomans, decide the issue of legalization of marijuana.

Tim Harris is Tulsa County district attorney, and will retire in January after serving 28 years with the office.

CLICK HERE to read the full article in the Tulsa World.