This op-ed column appears in Florida Today for August 12, 2014. Photo is obvously outdated. Hope the message is clear.
Marshall Frank: The dangers of marijuana
I’m a 30-year retired cop. I’m also the father of a lifelong drug addict.
I’ve witnessed the bane of the drug world on the inside and the outside, from a professional standpoint, as well as a personal one.
On its merit, I support Amendment 2, concerning the legalization of medical marijuana, on the November ballot. There are worthwhile uses for people with symptoms of nausea, glaucoma, seizure disorders and more. But we cannot be dismissive. There’s much more to the issue of using marijuana for medical reasons, or debating the pros and cons of pot in general.
If and when the amendment is approved, it would be naïve to believe that all marijuana use will be confined to health issues. Profiteers and users will exploit the new relaxations, which will transgress into abuse for purposes other than relieving pain and nausea. That’s a guarantee. I suspect it will open the floodgates for marijuana highs in the name of health care.
Yet, there are two reasons to support Amendment 2:
• It will alleviate suffering for many health-related symptoms
• It will alleviate court dockets and prison populations, thus saving hundred and thousands of non-dangerous people from being tagged for life with criminal records.
That doesn’t mean marijuana is not dangerous. Alcohol is dangerous, cigarettes are dangerous and the negligent use of prescription medicine is dangerous. Don’t believe anyone who tells you marijuana is not dangerous. It is.
The greatest danger is infesting drugs within the youth population. Teenagers are using illegal pot more than cigarettes. Here’s why:
• Pot is glamorized in the entertainment industry, cigarettes are not. In modern cinema, it is common to see actors toke up on screen (not cigarettes). It’s even more common to see role models such as Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber defy the law and encourage marijuana use among kids.
• In today’s world, adult users negligently sanction marijuana as a cool, harmless activity, giving teens the OK. That includes young parents who openly smoke dope around kids as though there was no harm.
Kids are where the dangers lie, because marijuana is absolutely a gateway drug for teens younger than 18. I know. My son was only 12 when his divorced mom — a regular user — handed him a joint, saying “Go ahead, try it. Don’t do it behind my back.”
The boy was a model student. Was. From there, it led to stealing his mother’s stash and selling it in school. He became a popular kid overnight. By the time he reached his late teens, it was time for something better, stronger, more cool. He had become immersed in the drug culture. During his early adult life, no drug was taboo. He did it all. Meanwhile, his life passed him by. It’s a tragic story that all began with a liberal-minded mom who provided the seed for future addiction.
Yes, his father was around, in and out playing tough love and soft love, struggling to make a difference, but that was nearly impossible when someone is hellbent on running away all the time.
So, is marijuana a gateway drug? It depends. Not all people who use marijuana will move onto harder drugs. But nearly all people who have used heroin, cocaine and meth used marijuana first. Adults who begin smoking pot in their late 20s and 30s might not use harder drugs. But kids are different. It is a major risk.
While enacting medical marijuana laws, Florida authorities must simultaneously embark upon a prevention campaign that targets the young with fact-based education announcements — similar to anti-cigarette ads — about the downsides of using pot, and there are plenty. Science has concluded that pot smoking among teens has a negative impact on brain function. It affects IQ. It diminishes ambition. Driving high on pot is dangerous, the same as alcohol, though less detectable.
Meanwhile, we should rebuke Hollywood and the irresponsible music industry for their roles in glamorizing drug use. It is critical that we protect kids from dangerous enticements. We must make a difference.