2013-10-10 / Letters

Legalization would send unhealthy message

A s someone who shapes public policy and works to keep children healthy, safe and drug-free, I am often asked to explain my opposition to legalizing marijuana.

It is best explained with a twist on the iconic “Field of Dreams” phrase, “If you build it, they will come.”

When it comes to marijuana, the facts show that “if you legalize it, young people will use and abuse it.”

It seems obvious that more people will use a substance deemed legal and presumably safe by the government than they will use an illegal and presumably dangerous one. This logical conclusion has serious consequences for young people.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which is funded by the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, released a study earlier this year that proved that the less dangerous young people considered a particular substance, the more they used it.

From 2007-11, the percentage of adolescents who perceived great risk from smoking marijuana once or twice a week decreased from 54.6 percent to 44.8 percent. At the same time, young people who smoked marijuana in a given month increased from 6.7 percent to 7.9 percent.

Those numbers reflect a time when policy makers in New Jersey and several other states were debating medical marijuana.

As some continue to push for legalizing marijuana regardless of medicinal circumstance, young people will continue to think it is safe. The numbers of young users in New Jersey will shoot through the roof if New Jersey ever sanctions the use of an illicit and dangerous drug.

This is sending the wrong message to young people. Marijuana is an addictive drug that often leads users to use other illegal drugs and down a path toward a number of medical and social problems.

The science is clear: Marijuana use can cause disinterest in activities, lower grades and bring about isolation. It affects the brain, heart and lungs.

Teen users have an increased risk of schizophrenia, depression and suicidal thoughts. They are also more likely to engage in delinquent and dangerous behavior, whether it is unsafe sex or driving under the influence.

Studies have shown that children in treatment facilities are more likely to have abused marijuana than any other drug — alcohol included.

If those are the consequences, why on earth would government send the incorrect message by legalizing this drug?

I have many friends on the other side of this debate and their most compelling argument is relieving the courts from being bogged down by drug offenses.

There are better ways to accomplish this, such as our landmark bipartisan mandatory drug court program, which will allow nonviolent offenders to get the treatment they need.

Under Gov. Chris Christie’s leadership, our focus has been on helping people break free from addiction to dangerous substances. Instead of changing the law and ignoring a problem, we have changed our approach to help people reclaim their lives.

Mary Pat Angelini
11th District, Monmouth County
Wall Township

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