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Front Page » December 4, 2007 » Local News » Debate rages while marijauna's impact fuels separate argu...
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Debate rages while marijauna's impact fuels separate argument

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Sun Advocate community editor

Pipes are available at a local store to anyone over the age of 19 as a tobacco smoking device.

As the gateway debate continues to rage between scientists and law enforcement, a separate argument concerning the prevalence and effect of marijuana on society is also burning at the federal and local level.

Shane Henrie and Tory Christiansen of the Carbon Metro Drug Task Force reported that community marijuana use has stayed relatively stable and continuous for the pair's entire careers as police officers.

Combined, Henrie and Christiansen have 25 years of law enforcement and criminal investigation experience.

"We read a recent study that claimed youth marijuana use would go down with the price of the drug going up," said Henrie. "But the thing is we haven't seen the price go up, so use among Carbon County youth has remained the same. While it [marijuana] is not the drug we get the most arrests for, we do feel that it is the most commonly abused illegal drug in the community."

According to data compiled by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana is the most commonly abused illicit substance at locations across the United States.

In 2004, 14.6 million Americans age 12 and older used marijuana at least once in the month prior to being surveyed.

About 6,000 people per day in 2004 used marijuana for the first time, adding up to 2.1 million Americans for the year.

The institute reported that of the first-time users, 63.8 percent were younger than the age of 18.

The use by individuals still in the developmental stages of their lives is of great interest to and scrutiny by the national institute, according to a 2007 facts report.

The short-term effects of marijuana can include problems with memory and learning; distorted perception; difficulty in thinking and problem solving; loss of coordination and increased heart rate.

Research findings for long-term marijuana abuse indicate some changes in the brain similar to those seen after long-term abuse of other major drugs.

"For example, cannabinoid (THC or synthetic forms of THC the active ingredient in marijuana) withdrawal in chronically exposed animals leads to an increase in the activation of the stress-response system and changes in the activity of nerve cells containing dopamine," said the current study.

Dopamine neurons are involved in the regulation of motivation and reward and are directly or indirectly affected by all drugs of abuse, according to the institute.

"One study has indicated that an abuser's risk of heart attack more than quadruples in the first hour after smoking marijuana," pointed out the national substance abuse institute. "The researchers suggest that such an effect might occur from marijuana's effect on blood pressure, heart rate and reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood."

Proponents of marijuana use for medical and recreational purposes maintain that the studies are biased.

The proponents also contend that marijuana does not increase a user's chance of heart failure any more than a cigarette.

Information from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) indicates that marijuana is less than alcohol or tobacco.

"Around 50,000 people die each year from alcohol poisoning. Similarly, more than 400,000 deaths each year are attributed to tobacco smoking," stated the NORML website. "By comparison marijuana is nontoxic and cannot cause death by overdose."

According to The Lance, a European medical journal, "the smoking of cannabis even long-term, is not harmful to health.....It would be reasonable to judge cannabis as less of a threat than alcohol or tobacco."

NORML supports the removal of all penalties for the private possession and responsible use of marijuana by adults, including cultivation for personal use and casual nonprofit transfers of small amounts. This policy, known as decriminalization, removes the consumer, the marijuana smoker from the criminal justice system. Something that many organizations including NORML feel would have a positive effect on the justice system and save taxpayer dollars.

However, federal and local law enforcement officials disagree with the idea.

"Marijuana is a gateway drug. I have seen it lead to the use of many other drugs," said Christiansen. "I have seen it start people down the path to abuse of harder drugs more times than not."

The task force members also reported that even simple possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor, can be enhanced to a felony if the individual is arrested near certain areas including schools and churches. They further stipulated that possessing more than 16 ounces of marijuana at anytime, anywhere is a felony.

While organizations like NORML continue to fight for decriminalization for personal, medical and industrial use of marijuana federal and local authorities, continue to speak of its dangers.

NIDA's conclusion about marijuana indicates that Carbon County parents can help keep children away from all drugs by letting youth know of the dangers associated with the controlled substances, In addition, parents should monitor children's activities and stay involved in the youth's lives.

Information for parents about marijuana can be found at

Editors note: Today's story is the second article in a three-part series addressing the negative impacts of marijuana and the ongoing Gateway Drug debate.

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