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Counterpoint: Research shows why IM27 should be resoundingly rejected
Guest column by Maggie Seidel, public policy advisor
For more than two decades, marijuana advocates have faced little to no opposition in their quest to normalize the use of the drug. Advocates assert marijuana is safe – it’s just a plant, after all. In political settings, we laugh about Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and countless others having smoked it, even if they didn’t inhale. And if you’re the average layman, you probably think of cannabis as largely harmless.
Here in South Dakota, the proponents of Initiated Measure 27 specifically allege that we must legalize marijuana because it’s “the will of the people.” But is that true? Amendment A was thrown out by the South Dakota Supreme Court because it violated the single subject rule by legalizing hemp, medicinal and recreational marijuana use. No one can assert that supporters backed it solely because of the recreational provision. This is the “will of the people” moment – South Dakotans need to go to the polls armed with the truth about marijuana.
It isn’t safe. The effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short, especially on young people, are far worse than many understand or the marijuana lobby wants you to find out.
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Advancements in growing techniques and the breeding of marijuana plants have taken THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that causes addiction, from low single digits decades ago to more than 20 percent today. Per The New Yorker, it’s like going from a swig of beer to a tequila shot. Even worse, in some marijuana products like oil, shatter and edibles, THC concentrations exceed 95 percent.
The long-term effects of such high concentrations of THC are still being studied – remember that it took decades for researchers and doctors to find and prove the connection between cigarettes and cancer – but the initial findings are already extremely troubling.
In addition to the very clear adverse health effects on regular cannabis users, like lung and pancreas impairment, chronic cannabis usage is also connected to higher rates of depression, anxiety and mental illnesses like psychosis – mental episodes that can sometimes trigger terrifying violence.
As Alex Berenson meticulously laid out in his book, “Tell Your Children – The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence,” perhaps the most important breakthrough in marijuana research came in 2017 when the National Academy of Medicine found strong evidence that marijuana can cause schizophrenia. It also found evidence that it can worsen bipolar disorder and increase the risk of suicide, depression and social anxiety disorder. Specifically, “Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.”
That does not mean everyone who smokes a joint is going to end up with suicidal thoughts or schizophrenia. But it should give pause to anyone thinking this is a harmless drug, particularly parents. It’s time we have an honest conversation about this.
According to data released recently by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly one-third of 12th-graders reported using marijuana at least once in the past year. We can attribute this to the marijuana industry’s perpetual marketing that the drug is safe as well as the ease in obtaining it. Democrat Jamie Smith announced in the gubernatorial debate that his teenage son can get his hands on marijuana more easily than beer, and Smith wants to legalize it. We need to fight this.
Research released in 2019 found that even very low levels of marijuana use – as few as one or two times – are linked to significant changes in young people’s brains, specifically the regions involved in emotion-related processing, learning and forming memories.
If nothing else, parents should heed the warnings of Arizona addiction psychiatrist Dr. Ed Gogek, who used the drug himself in his youth and has treated more than 10,000 addicts during his medical career. Gogek reports that not only are there dozens of structural changes that show up on adolescent brain scans (including less ability to think and plan, more impulsivity, poor attention and worse memory) but most of this damage is also permanent; even if a youth stops using marijuana, his brain function does not return to normal.
There are many who think alcohol is just as bad, if not more harmful than marijuana. The truth is that alcohol and marijuana are vastly different. First, alcohol is much more ingrained in our society. We’ve already seen that criminalizing it (Prohibition) is impossible. More than 60 percent of Americans drink alcoholic beverages at least socially. Conversely, even though marijuana use is at an all-time high, half of Americans have never used it, and just 12 percent of Americans report currently using it.
Alcohol obviously can be abused and lead to serious health problems, but marijuana is even more neurotoxic. Per Berenson’s reporting, alcohol rarely causes psychosis and the violence connected to alcohol is very different – including less severe – than the violence that marijuana causes. It is because of the dissimilar risks connected with marijuana that society has treated it differently than alcohol and should continue to do so.
Lastly, advocates also overstate the economic benefits in terms of jobs and tax revenue from legalized marijuana. But even if the state would end up awash in tax revenue, there’s not enough to justify the harm that would result. Just as we do not want government to signal that the drug isn’t dangerous and harmful, we don’t want government to be a partner in the marijuana business.
Using cannabis (or any other drug) is certainly a personal choice. But the question about whether South Dakota should advance legalization is a political one. The research is overwhelming and irrefutable. The fact that the marijuana lobby can't be honest about it is reason enough to reject IM27. But taking the seriousness of the known effects of the drug into account makes legalization an indefensible choice for me, and that's why I'm voting NO on IM27. I urge you to do the same.
Maggie Seidel is a resident of Hughes County. She holds two advanced degrees, including a Master’s degree in economics, and has spent her more than 15-year career working in public policy.