Seattle Hempfest was in full swing this weekend – stirring up debate in Washington state over the legalization of marijuana. In November, bill 502, which would legalize marijuana, is scheduled on the docket and although festival attendees involve themselves in a bit of civil disobedience by lighting up in the park each year, not everyone supports the new bill.
In fact, nationwide the legalization of marijuana is a central source of debate. There are compelling arguments for and against such a law. Some believe that legalizing the drug for recreational use would not only bring in significant tax money for each state, but would be bring down the estimated billions of dollars poured into arrests for possession of marijuana.
On the other hand, others would argue that legalizing marijuana would induce violence and put more lives at danger. Examples of this are cited in recent, unprecedented acts of violence, such as the case of the “Miami Cannibal,” Rudy Eugene or Arizona shooter, Jared Loughner, or the suspected Colorado shooter, James Holmes. In each case, the suspects were known to be users of cannabis and – coupled with a psychotic break – committed acts of extreme aggression and violence.
Dr. Christine Miller, who received her graduate degree (years before) from the same neuroscience program as James Holmes at Colorado University, explained in an interview, why she is against legalization of the drug, “Many people don’t realize that the marijuana of modern day is not the same as the marijuana of the 1960s. People were surprised when Eugene’s toxicology report came back with ‘nothing more than marijuana’ in his system, but what people don’t realize is that most marijuana today is likely a more potent, toxic mix of questionable substances.”
Dr. Miller isn’t alone in her point of view, Dr. Patricia Junquera, assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine talked to The Star Tribune following the release of Eugene’s toxicology report. She gave a hypothesis of what may have ignited Eugene’s psychotic break. “There are two strains of marijuana called sativa and indica. The sativa increases dopamine and gives you energy while decreasing pain threshold. Indica is a ‘sleepy high.’ People don’t really know what the amount of either is in each little packet of marijuana,” she explained. “And we can’t differentiate between the two in the blood, much less in a dead person…the marijuana could have increased even further the dopamine levels and aggravated the situation.”
For now, the police and other experts on the case, remain unaware of exactly what prompted Eugene to attack Ronald Poppo, a 65-year-old homeless man, under the bridge in Miami on May 26th. However, the incident brings into question exactly how even the seemingly most juvenile of recreational drugs can affect the mind.
Time Healthland’s Maia Szalavitz, a neuroscience journalist, suggested in an article that legalization might limit the race to create and distribute legal, THC-like drugs – namely ‘Spice,’ ‘K2’ and ‘bath salts.’ These drugs, unlike marijuana are missing cannabidiol (CBD), the chemical found in natural marijuana that induces a mellow effect. Each of these synthetic drugs has been linked in several recent headlines to unthinkable behavior and criminal acts.
Proponents of the legalization of marijuana also argue that, unlike cigarettes, there is no risk of lung cancer or an increased risk of death. Some even argue in opposition of Dr. Miller and Dr. Junquera – denying a connection between marijuana use and psychosis, such as schizophrenia.
A 2010 documentary, The Downside of High, however, showcases quite the opposite. Writer and director, Bruce Mohn created a documentary featuring the groundbreaking work of several scientists and experts in schizophrenia, who have uncovered a startling link among young marijuana users and the development of recurring psychosis, paranoia and hallucinations – the trademark symptoms of schizophrenia.
There are studies to back up both arguments, however, Dr. Miller pointed out in a letter to the Baltimore Sun that at present there are “too few scientific studies that have been conducted as to all the risks and benefits.” Meaning, the risk of death, disease and psychosis certainly can’t be ruled out in any case.
This is among the concerns for parents in states where the legalization of marijuana is on the ballot. These concerns are similar to the worries that come with alcohol, such as driving under the influence. In Washington state, the law will include zero THC tolerance for drivers under 21 and place a limit on the active allowable amount in a driver’s bloodstream. Users of medical marijuana say the latter would effectively criminalize their driving.
And back at Hempfest, which has always been a political rally for getting marijuana legalization on the ballot since its beginning in 1991, the group remains quite divided over the issue. Vivian McPeak director of the festival says she and many others oppose the bill because legalization is coming with several strings attached. Among those “strings” is that legalization would not allow users to grow marijuana in their homes – for medical or recreational use.
Some organizers of the festival left the group this year over the debate, causing internal complications. McPeak knows that it will be a long road to reaching a policy that everyone can agree on. She told The Seattle Times, “Changing 100 years of prohibition is going to be complicated.”
Colorado, Oregon and Washington state will vote on the matter this fall.
Advocates of Marijuana Divided Over Legalization
As Seen On: Examiner.com