- - Wednesday, October 19, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When the topic is illicit drugs, a two-way conversation can generate three opinions (or more). A disjointed nationwide discussion is underway over the benefits and dangers of marijuana that will rattle at the ballot box on Nov. 8. Whether they vote to join the current crop of tokers or to stand firm for smoke-free sobriety, Americans in several states can’t claim to be clueless about the consequences of the high life. It’s already here.

Some 82 million persons covering nine states are poised to vote Nov. 8 on ballot initiatives legalizing marijuana in some form of recreational or medical use, including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada and North Dakota. Voters in several others — Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia, have already made it a legitimate prescription for what ails them.

Cannabis proponents pressed the Obama administration for years to remove marijuana from its list of Schedule 1 drugs that, like heroin, pose a high risk of addiction. The Drug Enforcement Administration in August posted a notice in the Federal Register: No dice. The weed is to remain classified as a drug with “no accepted medical use in the United States.”

Lists and law, however, don’t always agree. Federal statute says marijuana is illegal, but the Justice Department has decided to look the other way in states that have gone to grass. Should the nine states pass new pot measures featured on their November ballots, the pot prosecution target zones would shrink even more. Add to that President Obama’s habit of granting pardons to incarcerated drug offenders, and chants of “High lives matter” could soon echo from coast to coast.

The fear of tobacco smoke doesn’t carry over to pot. The online news site of upstate New York’s Ithaca College describes students debating whether to join the nation’s 1,713 smoke-free campuses. Tobacco is already banned everywhere but a few outdoor locations, but even those are too many for some. “I hate walking out of this building and all you smell is smoke,” says one Tim Conners. At the same time, researchers at the University of Michigan have found that the proportion of college students who have used marijuana has risen from 30 percent to 38 percent during the past decade, explaining why the aroma of the other kind of smoke is a fact of dorm life on many campuses.

Government officials are fond of marijuana because it carries the sweet smell of money. As Colorado’s sin-tax take from tobacco sales fell from a high of $229 million in 2007 to $37 million in 2013, the $135 million collected from pot sales of nearly $1 billion in 2015 has been a bonanza. It’s a sign of the times that in places such as Portland, Ore., ads featuring alcohol and tobacco are restricted, but billboards for cannabis are common.

Some people would always rather be high than healthy. Wellington Webb, a former mayor of Denver, appears in a TV ad advising Arizonans not to follow in Colorado’s lead into pot paradise. Colorado teens have the greatest use of pot in the nation, he warns, and 50 percent of newborns tested in one state hospital had THC, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, in their system. “Don’t repeat our terrible mistake,” he warns. Americans have the choice on Election Day of whether to take sound advice or another hit.

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