Marijuana legalization is an extremely unwise policy

Religious believers (especially pastors) are called to help people maintain their physical and mental wellbeing, just as much as their moral and spiritual soundness. This is the ethical imperative of health care. It includes alerting people to threats and taking steps to keep hazards from accumulating.

Our political leaders share this responsibility. Those who represent us are charged both with maintaining good civic order and with creating conditions that support the public health. It’s their duty to their constituents and (whether or not they acknowledge it) also to God.

There are certain areas of concern in which it’s clear that politicians are failing. One is the legalization, and consequent proliferation, of marijuana.

Pot shops have sprouted from sea to shining sea. Cannabis, weed, hemp, reefer, Mary Jane — call it what you will — is now a huge, legal, well funded industry.

A recent call by the president for releasing those incarcerated for marijuana use sparked a 30 percent rise in stock prices of corporations involved in the trade.

Marijuana is big business.

Despite such broad acceptance, marijuana remains a dangerous drug that undermines both good civic order and public health. It decreases the ability to control emotions, leading to improper and anti-social behavior. It’s a recognized cause of crime and violence, as well as auto accidents and other mishaps.

It’s also profoundly self-destructive. Marijuana users commit suicide at three times the rate of the general population. And marijuana is commonly acknowledged as a “gateway drug,” leading to the use of other, more potent and addictive substances. Research suggests it even increases alcohol consumption.

A proposal to legalize pot shops is expected to come before the Collier County Board of Commissioners early next year. This is unfortunate, because even the public debate of legal sales will draw added attention to the drug, making it a common topic of conversation. This will reinforce the false impression that open availability is a legitimate public policy option.

If the measure should pass, the aggressive advertising that will inevitably follow can only amplify the message that marijuana is just fine.

It is not fine.

The harmful effects of marijuana have long been known. But neither people of faith nor their political representatives have presented an argument for suppressing it that is strong enough to counter the allures of relaxation or pleasure or release from life’s cares that are touted by its advocates.

To the contrary, they more often anticipate the tax money to be gained through its sale. Widespread hope for a revenue windfall benefits the commercial interests (and their lobbyists) working to secure legalization throughout Florida. We rarely hear about the corresponding cost burdens of added policing and medical services that will be needed.

There is evidence for some healthful effects of cannabis, primarily in promoting the tolerability of certain anti-cancer drugs. “Medical marijuana” was approved back in 2016.

But if marijuana does indeed have legitimate medicinal application, that is no argument for open sales, even through so-called marijuana “dispensaries.” Marijuana or its chemical extracts can be dispensed by pharmacists under proper prescription controls and HIPAA restrictions.

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Legalization is an extremely unwise policy. We must insist that our county commissioners approach this proposal with the utmost caution.

They have only to look at the consequences of unrestricted marijuana sales in cities like San Francisco, Denver, and others that have gone the legalization route. Increased crime, increased traffic hazard, increased illness, increased homelessness and panhandling — these and other deteriorated civic conditions are all too evident.

Marijuana is both a threat and a hazard. We don’t want the quality of life in Collier County going to pot.