Marijuana or Na?
The past 20 years have seen a massive shift in marijuana policy in the US. Before 1996, both recreational and medical marijuana were illegal in all 50 states. But one by one, states began to soften their stance on the drug.1 Beginning with California in 1996, many states began to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. Later, beginning with Colorado and Washington in 2012, states began to legalize recreational marijuana as well.
New Mexico already has a program for the use of medical marijuana, but recreational use remains illegal. This could be changing soon, however. A more marijuana-friendly New Mexico legislature was elected in late 2018, which has many people cheering in hopes of recreational pot being legalized soon. But is making marijuana legal the best thing for New Mexico?
Many say yes, and believe the pros outweigh the cons. According to a late 2018 Albuquerque journal poll, “By nearly a 2-1 ratio, New Mexico voters say they would support legislation to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana sales to adults.” Legalization would allow the government to regulate and profit off of marijuana sales that currently happen on the black market. Prohibiting the drug hasn’t stopped its sale and use, and it is often argued that our current law wastes money by arresting and jailing people for using a relatively safe substance. Making pot legal could save valuable state resources and free up our criminal justice system to focus on more serious crimes.
Connor Deuschle, a Senior Mechanical Engineering student at Tech, supports legalization. He says the laws we have now are a “useless form of prohibition.” Legalization has a lot of problems that need time to work themselves out, and it will have some drawbacks in the short term, he says. "But on the whole, it will help society in the long run.”
On the other hand, opponents see marijuana legalization as a bad move for New Mexico. Some say that it will make the drug too available, and will lead to an increase in its use and misuse. Letting private businesses sell marijuana will lead them to market to heavy users with drug problems.6 Health concerns are also an issue. According to Vox, "The most thorough review of the research yet, from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, found that pot poses a variety of possible downsides — including…respiratory problems if smoked, schizophrenia and psychosis, car crashes, general social achievement in life, and potentially babies in the womb.”
There are also tough questions about details of legalization that remain unanswered, such as how to determine what dosage of pot causes too much impairment for driving.
Sophomore Electrical Engineering major Matthew Miller opposes the legalization of marijuana and thinks that it will increase usage, especially among those who wouldn’t do it if it was illegal. Marijuana inhibits a person’s thinking, which can lead to bad decisions. Even with age limits on buyers, the drug can effect entire households, Miller says. It may reduce the parents’ ability to provide for their kids and show their kids a healthy lifestyle.
I interviewed Dr. Frank Etscorn about this issue to learn from his knowledge. Dr. Etscorn says he probably leans towards legalization, but it’s hard to say for sure whether legalization will hurt or help society overall. The drug is not toxic, as far as drugs go—“a lethal dose is probably at least 400 lbs dropped from 100 feet over your head.” However, pot is toxic if you’re going to class stoned or if you’re driving in an impaired state. Marijuana is a lung irritant, and people can become dependent on it. Cannabis can decrease productivity, but it doesn’t always have that effect. For people who are smart and working, and don’t go to work stoned, there’s probably not a problem, Etscorn says. “Carl Sagan smoked pot, and that’s all I need to know.” Legalizing weed would have a safety benefit, because it would allow the government to regulate and test the drug to make sure there are no harmful additives or unsafe THC concentrations. As for whether legalization will increase usage, he says Colorado is the experiment, and we need to watch the data in the next 5 to 10 years.
There’s no denying that marijuana is safer than alcohol, Etscorn says. Alcohol addictions are much stronger than pot addictions, and alcohol's effect on the body is more dangerous. “I would rather see college students smoking pot out of class, after class, than drinking after class.”
Even if marijuana is legalized in New Mexico, many Tech students likely won’t start smoking it because of job prospects: a substantial number of employers won’t hire people who can’t pass a drug test.10 And as long as pot remains a schedule 1 drug on the federal level, this isn’t likely to change. Marijuana use decreases the number of companies a student can work for.
The issue is complex, and there are good arguments on both sides of the debate. What will New Mexico decide? We will probably find out soon.
1. Speights, K. (2018, September 23). Timeline for marijuana legalization in the United States: How the dominoes are falling. The Motley Fool. Retrieved from https://www.fool.com/investing/2018/09/23/timeline-for-marijuana-legalization-in-the-united.aspx
2. (2018, November 6). Drug Policy Alliance. Retrieved from http://www.drugpolicy.org/press-release/2018/11/election-2018-results-marijuana-legalization-poised-move-forward-new-mexico
3. McKay, D. (2018, September 21). Journal poll: NM voters back legal marijuana. Albuquerque Journal. Retrieved from https://www.abqjournal.com/1223550/nm-voters-back-legal-marijuana.html
4. Lopez, G. (2018, November 14). The case for marijuana legalization. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/8/20/17938392/marijuana-legalization-arrests-racism-violence-drug-cartels
5. Deuschle, C. (2019, January 17). Interview by J. K. Nolan [In-person].
6. Lopez, G. (2018, November 14). The case against marijuana legalization. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/8/20/17938414/big-marijuana-legalization-corporations-advertising
7. Lopez, G. (2018, November 14). Marijuana is a relatively safe drug—with some risks. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/8/20/17938380/marijuana-legalization-health-safety-risks-addiction
8. Miller, M. (2019, January 17). Interview by J. K. Nolan [In-person].
9. Etscorn, F. (2019, January 19). Interview by J. K. Nolan [In-person].
10. Rugaber, C. (2018, May 2). More businesses are mellowing out over hiring pot smokers. AP. Retrieved from https://www.apnews.com/7e7877c08d7e43418c08738a67bf61a4