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Legislators right to just say no to pot

The Columbian
Published: February 25, 2010, 12:00am

A growing number of people in our state are joining many in Oregon and California in believing that marijuana use should be decriminalized. Their changing attitudes, described in the Wall Street Journal in a Jan. 15 article “Push for Looser Pot Laws Gains Momentum,” have been molded during 20 years of proselytizing by MoveOn.org founder George Soros and other drug-legalization promoters. In more than a dozen states, Soros (as detailed in David Broder’s book, “Democracy Derailed”) has sponsored voter initiatives for the more widely accepted medical marijuana and then for legalization. Initiatives to move beyond medical marijuana to legalize and tax the drug are gaining steam in California and Oregon, intended for 2010 ballots.

Budget-strapped Washington is the next target. Last month, two measures reached our state’s House Public Safety Committee that, if passed, would have permitted the sale of marijuana to adults in Washington’s 160 state-run liquor stores. One supporter, Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, stated “the amount of money that we could realize over legalizing it and regulating it is close to $300 million a year.”

This year, thankfully, both legalization measures were voted down but if the movement’s history is any guide, new bills and initiatives are already in the works. Their lure will be millions in tax revenue, but those come with incalculable offsetting costs.

Marijuana sold legally from dozens of easily accessible liquor stores will not be consumed only by adults, so those harmed will include vulnerable kids and their families. Few legislators or policymakers, let alone adolescents or parents, know one of the most persuasive arguments against societal acceptance of marijuana: It appears to be a leading risk factor in severe mental illness.

Role in schizophrenia?

There is increasing scientific evidence that marijuana use by adolescents is a risk factor in triggering schizophrenia, a life-changing illness affecting more than 1 percent of the population, burdening sufferers, their families and society with huge risks and costs. While not yet establishing the direct causal relationship, researchers in 30 studies during the past 20 years have linked the use of marijuana in adolescents to the increased probability of developing psychosis and schizophrenia.

A partial list of the studies, conducted in the U.K., Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand, can be accessed at http://www.schizophrenia.com/prevention/streetdrugs.html. One study conducted in Sweden concluded that heavy young consumers of cannabis at age 18 were 600 percent more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than those who did not take it. Researchers in New Zealand found that those who used cannabis by the age of 15 were more than three times more likely to develop illnesses such as schizophrenia. Research by psychiatrists in inner-city areas described cannabis as being a factor in over 80 percent of cases of schizophrenia.

A 2005 study at the London Institute of Psychiatry concluded that people were 4.5 times more likely to be schizophrenic at 26 if they were regular cannabis smokers at 15, compared to 1.65 times for those who did not report regular use until age 18. As explained by Sanjiv Kumra, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and co-author of a 2005 study, “in addition to interfering with normal brain development, heavy marijuana use in adolescents may also lead to an earlier onset of schizophrenia in individuals who are genetically disposed to the disorder.” Even as few as five uses of cannabis increased the risk of developing psychosis significantly, according to a 2005 Dutch study.

The societal risk also applies to adults. Once mental illness develops, substance abuse follows in roughly 40 percent of cases. Marijuana use poses a particularly pernicious risk of counteracting expensive antipsychotic medications crucial to recovery.

It would be dangerous to give society’s imprimatur of approval to this destructive drug by legalizing, regulating and taxing it. Our legislators made a wise decision by just saying no.

Ann Donnelly, a Vancouver businesswoman, is a former chair of the Clark County Republican Party. E-mail: adonnelly7@comcast.net.

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