By Carley Wegner
Published: May 14, 2009
Marijuana. It’s a drug that stirs up a lot of controversy. Earlier this evening we talked about the increasing debate about legalizing marijuana.
Supporters say if you legalize it you can help bring down the state deficit along with refocusing the war on drugs by regulating a drug that despite being illegal many people use. In researching our story we have talked to people of all professions: law enforcement, law makers, lawyers, abuse counselors and doctors. As 9 on your side’s Carley Wegner reports, one thing they all agree on, is marijuana has to be kept out of the hands of minors.
Pitt County Sheriff Mac Manning says “Whether it’s legal, illegal, taxed not taxed. Whether it’s being sold on the streets or in a store it really doesn’t matter it’s going to be abused.“ Manning says there is no benefit to legalizing marijuana, but defense lawyer David Ward says there’s no reason not to legalize marijuana for adults”. He points to Alaska where the Supreme Court there made it legal in 1975. “The fact is, there is no evidence that decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana leads to increased use among adults or children.“
We checked and there is no hard evidence to prove marijuana use among teens has increased or decreased since 1975. However we did find the most recent department of health and human services drug use survey taken in 2006. The survey shows in Alaska where it’s legal to have up to an ounce of marijuana, teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who admitted to smoking marijuana was at 15 percent. In North Carolina it’s at 12 percent. Some states like Utah were as low as 10 percent—but others like Oregon topped the list at almost 18 percent.
Regardless of research, the sheriff still worries if you legalize marijuana on any level it will send the wrong message to kids. Manning says, “Marijuana along with alcohol and tobacco youth tend to experiment with first and marijuana is a gateway drug to other harder drugs that obviously lead to more dangerous drugs.“ Ward disagrees with the idea of marijuana being a gateway drug for children, he says if anything alcohol and cigarettes are more dangerous and more of a gateway drug than marijuana. “The fact is I think you can ask any doctor at this point they will confirm if they had to pick one of those 3 substances being the least harmful to you the overwhelming majority of doctors at this point would tell you that marijuana is least harmful for you.“
ECU Pharmacologist Doctor Ken Soderstrom says, “I wouldn’t necessarily consider it a gateway drug although I would say alcohol and cigarettes are a gateway to marijuana.“ Dr. Soderstrom has studied the affects of marijuana for years. He says while the drug seems to be considerably less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. For example it’s impossible to overdose on marijuana but he says the effects of pot on an adolescent mind are troubling, “there is very strong evidence that the earlier you begin abusing any drug – alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana – the more likely you are to continue having problems later in life the more likely your are not to be able to quit—this is very clear”.
So, If a person starts smoking pot at an early age would that lead to more dangerous drugs?
Ward says, “I don’t believe that marijuana is a gateway drug as its probably traditionally used I think with marijuana being illegal people that want to find it have to go to drug dealers that are in that business. Do I think it’s possible that may lead to exposure to some other things? Certainly.“ And it’s that exposure everyone agrees is unhealthy for children but what can’t be agreed on—at least for now— is how to weed it out of society. Manning says, “This is America and we figure things out- but when asked is marijuana is the answer he Manning says “absolutely not!”