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Points of contention regarding marijuana remain under debate

Sun Advocate community editor

As national, regional and local organizations wage the war on drugs, myths concerning the social acceptance, adolescent and financial impacts, addictive nature and criminal penalties involving marijuana remain prevalent.

"I feel that the social and economic impacts of marijuana are still unclear," said Price Mayor Joe Piccolo. "It is a powerful substance that would always have to be monitored carefully if decriminalization was ever seriously considered. However, before anything like that could ever be looked at seriously, I think an unbiased body would have to conduct extensive research into the drug and its affects socially, economically and culturally."

Piccolo indicated that he feels unqualified to give an opinion concerning current decriminalization efforts for the drug, primarily because nearly all information concerning the controlled substance is provided by institutions and organizations with an agenda concerning the pros and cons of marijuana use.

"I think marijuana is as broadly accepted as it always has been within our society. I do feel that it is a gateway drug that can lead young people down a dangerous road," said Piccolo. "I see methamphetamines as the biggest current problem for youth and adults alike in this community, from both an economic and social aspect."

Decriminalization efforts focus mainly on the economics of marijuana legalization.

According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, enforcing the drug's prohibition costs taxpayers an estimated $10 billion annually and results in the of more than 829,000 individuals per year, far more than the total number of arrestees for all violent crimes combined including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

The organization further reported that of those charged with marijuana violations approximately 89 percent were charged with possession only.

The organization's site argues that decriminalization would reduce many of the problems presently associated with the prohibition of marijuana, including the crime, corruption and violence associated the current "black market" with the drug.

While pro-decriminalization organizations paint the picture that the government sends otherwise innocent people to prison for casual marijuana use, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a different outlook.

"On the contrary, it is extremely rare for anyone, particularly first time offenders, to get sent to prison for possessing a small amount of marijuana," stated the myths and facts section of the NIDA website.

"In most states, possession of an ounce or less is a misdemeanor offense and some states have gone so far as to downgrade simple possession to a civil offense akin to a traffic violation," pointed out the NIDA

In Utah, if the charge is not enhanced by proximity to certain areas, possession of less than 16 ounces is a misdemeanor offense, according to officials at the Carbon Metro Drug Task Force.

The NIDA along with local and state law enforcement have stipulated to a certain fact about the drug: if kids want marijuana, they can find it. And that is a problem for even decriminalization proponents.

All sides of the argument stipulate in their literature that the drug is inappropriate and dangerous for anyone under the age of 18.

More than half of youths age 12 to 17 responding to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2002 reported that marijuana would be easy to obtain and that 42 percent of all high school students had used marijuana at some time in their lives.

"The survey indicated that most marijuana users got the drug from a friend and that almost 9 percent of youths who bought marijuana did so inside a school building," stated the NIDA website.

"Fortunately non-use remains the norm," continued the organization's website. "More often than not, the culture glamorizes or trivializes marijuana use and fails to portray the harm it can cause."

The NIDA reports that a significant part of youth abuse is primarily caused due to the misconception that marijuana is not addictive.

Marijuana use, in fact, is often associated with behavior that meets the criteria for substance dependence established by the American Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The criteria for substance dependence include:

•Tolerance, meaning the need of more to achieve the same effects over a period of time.

•Withdrawal symptoms.

•Using the drug in the presence of adverse life conditions.

•And giving up social, occupational or recreational activities because of abuse.

Marijuana proponents argue that marijuana is not in-fact addictive, cannot be life threatening and has several valuable medicinal and industrial uses, reporting that the drug has been part of humanities medicine chest for almost as long as history has been recorded.

The informational site at also reports that hemp, a variety of the marijuana plant has nearly unfathomable uses for a variety of industrial components including the making of textiles, paper, paints, clothing, plastics cosmetics, foodstuffs, insulation, animal feed and other products.

With the points of augment nearly endless, lawmakers and citizens will continue to debate the issue.

However, the important thing to realize at the current time, according to law enforcement officials, is that despite a persons beliefs or agenda the possession of marijuana is currently illegal and will be prosecuted until that fact changes.

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