21.4.09

A Sticky Subject

On Monday, NPR ran a long piece on the legalization of marijuana. With a slightly convoluted structure, the piece imagined a world where marijuana had been legalized for two years already, repeatedly reminding the listener that it was still fantasy, lest a War of the Worlds-style hysteria break out.

Possibly cannabis-driven format aside, the piece is worth a listen. It runs over most of the arguments for and against legalization.

Over the past few months, I've informally polled some folks, Christians and non-Christians from a variety of backgrounds and ages. I've been surprised at the responses. One family friend, in her mid-60s and a devout charismatic Christian, told me cannabis should be legal, and alcohol should be banned. Marijuana is not something widely discussed within Christianity, and I'm curious what other believers really think.

So I created some poll questions, which will run until June 1st. They're down at the bottom of this post.

The NPR piece covers most of the arguments for and against, but I'll go over them very briefly here.
Arguments For

Tax Revenue - Marijuana is the largest cash crop in Alaska, Alabama, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. It is in the top three in 27 others. The tax revenue from marijuana sales would, if not fix, then alleviate the budget crises of states like California.

Impact on Mexican Cartels - Marijuana, not cocaine or heroin, is the largest source of income for the Mexican drug cartels, and legalizing it would hinder their operations greatly. While drug trafficking would continue (along with other nasty cartel business, like kidnapping), it would be dramatically reduced.

Advantages Over Current Drugs - For medicinal use, marijuana is arguably better than prescription pain medication. It is less physically addictive than opiates, and less harmful over time. Additionally, it could be argued marijuana is safer than alcohol...it's less addictive, less harmful and less likely to result in dangerous or violent behavior and overdosing.

A Less Burdened Legal System - Courts would be freed of prosecuting marijuana-related offenses. Prisons and jails would have more room.

Arguments Against

A Rise in Marijuana Use - Whether or not marijuana is safer than alcohol and prescription drugs doesn't make it a good thing. More widespread use would likely result in a less productive society, along with a whole host of negative health effects.

Gateway - Lax laws on a formerly illicit drug would open the door for further experimentation with harder, more dangerous drugs.

Big Business - While marijuana growing might not reach the levels of Big Tobacco, it would certainly open a cultural floodgate and would, at some point, be marketed to children. (Though some would argue children's television has been drug-induced since the Sixties.)

Biblical Viewpoint - While I'm sure plenty of hippies disagree, there isn't much Biblical support for using marijuana. At the very least, Scripture's order to avoid drunkenness and definition of sloth and gluttony as sin harshen the buzz. In other words, when it comes to the weed itself, there isn't much reason for Christians to advocate legalization.
I'm sure there are many other arguments, but I'll use these as a starting point. What do you think? I'd love to hear about any points I'm missing in the comments. I'd also like to get a wide array of feedback, so please invite anyone else you know to weigh in, or at least take our poll.

Should marijuana be legalized?


Have you ever smoked or otherwise consumed marijuana?


If marijuana was legal, would you consume it?

39 comments:

  1. Before it's legalized, one should determine a legal limit for toxicity. Similar to BAC for alcohol.

    It is ironic that we live in a society, however, where it is legal to kill an unborn human fetus (another person) but we're not allowed use a drug that may put our own person at risk of harm.

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  2. i've never smoked marijuana. i've had the opportunity, and the legality wasn't really an issue. if it were legal, i would have made the same choice. i think this is the case with most people, i don't think the law detracts very many people. if it were legal, people would still consider it wrong in the same way as alcohol and cigarettes, so i think most people who aren'tt smoking weed because of the law probably still wouldn't.
    i think the same is true of harder drugs. just because marijuana was legal wouldn't mean that people would start smoking crack. if people are going to smoke marijuana just because it's suddenly legal, why would we assume that that would lead to illegal drugs? if someone doesn't care about if harder drugs are legal or not, i don't think they'll care if marijuana is legal or not.
    i think that marijuana is probably less dangerous than alcohol, but i don't think either should be illegal for one simple reason: we've already seen that prohibition doesn't work. when america experimented with making alcohol illegal, it was a huge mess. i think that plenty of people are smoking marijuana regardless of the law, and it would be cheaper and safer to regulate it and tax it than to arrest people or allow all the gang violence.

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  3. @ aaron: given that you have never used in the past, what experience or knowledge do you derive your opinion about people using marijuana not being the same people who would use harder drugs?

    the name we use to call this phenomena is 'addiction'. for those who are prone to addictive behaviors marijuana WILL become a gateway drug to other things that are far more damaging to society. when you are addicted to getting a better and better high, you don't think logically about the difference between legal/illegal or harmless/harmful methods.

    @ jordan: i think another negative impact to society that was not touched on in the NPR segment - and possibly because there isn't enough published research out in this arena - is the impact using this drug has on the onset of bipolar/paranoid schizophrenia in young men.

    i know there are studies on this link and have witnessed it happen to 3 men whom i know...all of which were using marijuana heavily when the onset occurred. bipolor/schizophrenia is a disease that can be managed with support and (legal) drugs - but society does pay a toll - especially when the person refuses to manage their disease appropriately.

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  4. i had many friends who smoked marijuana in high school and college (which is why i had the opportunity). while i think it's really stupid and wish they hadn't, none of them moved on to harder drugs, and i don't think it was any worse than drinking.

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  5. @kathryn:

    Great point, and I appreciate you adding another reason. Four arguments on each side is woefully inadequate for such an in-depth issue.

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  6. Oops...had to change the last poll question because it was coming up with the same results as the second question.

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  7. I still can't believe that this stuff is legal in most states and pot isn't.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvia_divinorum

    That to me is CRAZY.

    As far as pot goes...the statistics for fatalities/injuries for drunk driving vs. high driving...don't even compare and I do believe there are some medicinal purposes for pot.

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  8. Like Aaron, plenty of friends and now in-laws who have or do smoke pot and have not and would not do harder drugs. Marijuana is no more a gateway than alcohol.

    Knowing a bit about how "law" works in our spirits from the Bible, i would say that more laws leads to more law-breaking, since some who do it would anyway and many who do it might not have bothered if it weren't a way to rebel. Of course, legal restrictions aren't the only form of law, our culture may very well still see pot-smoking as rebellious, legal status notwithstanding.

    Anyway, it's silly to argue over what would happen, when there are plenty of countries where pot is legal. Just look at the data from those! They aren't falling apart from lack of productivity or moving on to harder drugs, and on the plus side, they aren't overcrowding their penal system while creating lucrative black markets to finance evil cartels.

    Prohibition of marijuana is NOT WORKING. The evidence is all around, all the dollars and prisons we've thrown at the "problem" have not only been totally wasted (since they failed to reduce usage), but they have also greatly hurt society by helping drug cartels with their financing and handing out criminal records to hundreds of thousands of those who otherwise would have none. You talk about the damage to society caused by ill health effects, but fail to acknowledge that those damages are happening despite its illegality. Because of blindness like that, we *spend billions* in a failing fight instead of *earning billions* in taxes that could be used to offset the damage. That's just nuts to me.

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  9. Legalizing marijuana will have its pros AND cons and I think we need to keep that in mind. Often (and I'm not saying this post is an example), arguments are either all the way in one camp or all the way in the other. The proponents of each side often want to keep the all-or-nothing angles of the arguments.

    I think it's safe to say that any vice has its issues. Indeed, marijuana related issues have overloaded the courts. Taxes can be raised on a product that’s already proven profitable. However, this test might be a slippery argument because the next thing that overloads the courts and could be a tax generator might be an issue we don't want to apply this same argument too.

    I can see the merits of both sides, but at the end of the day, I don’t really care either way.

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  10. As a level headed friend and confidant to many pot smokers over the years, I find this discussion to be a great indicator of if a person has smoked too much of the stuff. You have officially crossed the line when you become all up in arms and start quoting exaggerated examples of how great it will be if we legalize weed. I immediately instruct these people to turn off the Bob Marley, get a clean shave, and go to freecreditreport.com to clear up any smoke induced mishaps along the way before their future is entirely screwed. I assure them the weed will be there when they return… They thank me in the long run.

    Of course the other side of the coin is dealing with a person who has no experience with weed whatsoever. I have no respect for someone who has no experience with weed much in the same way I have no respect and could never be friends with a guy who says he never masturbates. Either you’re a liar, or you’re a total bore, dude. (And actually you're probably both.)

    The bible doesn’t say because rules make us want to break them that we therefore shouldn’t have any rules at all. Quite the contrary, Jesus came to fulfill the law by rising above it through sacrificial love. He made the rules meaningless by pure and exemplary behavior. It is this same type of standard we should be at least aspiring to within the structure of our laws in order to create an environment most conducive to the greatest health for all. That’s why I say sorry Brosef, weed needs to be illegal, at least on paper, for as long as humanly possible.

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  11. I find use of the phrase "Brosef" to be an indicator, too. An indicator of the jerk store being all out of you, Aaron.

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  12. Sorry to harsh the buzz.

    With that said, here's a website I think you should check out:

    http://www.freecreditreport.com/pm/default.aspx?PageTypeID=HomePage62&SiteVersionID=716&SiteID=100219&sc=669009&bcd=S0000002_htfcr_conB

    aaron

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  13. thanks jordan, i was trying to think of a nice way to say that, and that was still nicer than anything i came up with.

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  14. Touche aaron and jordan!

    Aaron, you may not have ever smoked the weed.. but I think your profile doodle owes me a dime bag my man.

    peace!

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  15. Considering that it is as bad as tobacco if not worse, and it's does, contrary to the hype, have an addictive nature... I don't see why it ISn't legal; after all, drinking and cigs are so why to hold up? It's a choice thing in the end.
    granted I live in Colorado where "legal" is a relative and it's as common as cigars and cigs on the street...spend our money where it counts, uncle sam.

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  16. Legalization works in the Netherlands. We should use that as a model and have our own 'coffee shops'. It is ridiculous non-violent offenders go to jail for smoking weed.

    It is much better than alcohol and i am not for making alcohol illegal.

    Existential Punk

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  18. I'm sorry, but I must agree with Mr. Donley, I can't believe the amount of tax payer money goes to prosecuting the Mary Jane issue. Make it medically available, and tax the sh*t out of it like the have done with tobacco (not that I'm bitter).

    I have an addictive personality, I have smoked weed in the past, but hated how I felt when I smoked it. America may have been founded on "Christian" principles, but come on people, how long really was the nation "Christian" with slavery, and now the various wars against the axis of evil overseas.

    Let's focus our taxpayer money on schools, prosecuting more harshly DUII offenses, ending child abuse/neglect, and as, the federal tax on Tobacco hopes to do, fund children's health, and turning this f**ked up economy around.

    p.s. yes, I lean more conservatively, and yes, my husband is in the military. Doesn't mean I agree with our past foreign policies.

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  19. I think this is such an interesting debate. I myself smoke marijuana on a casual level and consider myself a devout Christian. I think the thing that we must ask ourselves is why are we doing it? Do we smoke or drink because we really enjoy it or do we do it to escape, to fit in with our friends? In my youth I drank because my friends did and I wanted to fit in. It wasn't a matter of being pressured or bullied, I just wanted to feel like I was an equal with them. Now that I'm older, I drink socially, but I do it because I enjoy the taste of a good beer. Smoking is a social thing as well, but I know that it impedes my mind in a way that intrigues me. It's like I don't even know how to function anymore. This past Monday (4/20) I celebrated the holiday with friends from work and smoked so much that I was left useless the following twenty-four hours. That feeling really bothered me and has left me wondering why I truly do smoke. I enjoy the feeling of being high, but we must ask ourselves when is too much? I will never do harder drugs, because I don't want to risk throwing my life away, but I understand why people choose to do them. It's an escape. It's a rush. Unfortunately when those means pass us by we are often left with addiction.

    So after much rambling I believe marijuana should be legalized and controlled. Much like we have limits with alcohol we should have limits with pot. Anything that alters our minds in a way that truly affects our judgment and motor skills, and so on should be monitored and controlled on some level. To me, the benefits of legalization far outweigh the negatives. Eating fatty foods will kill you, and heart disease is one of the leading killers in America, yet you don't see anyone trying to shutdown McDonald's.

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  20. Hmmm...I dunno. I used to live in Montreal, where it's technically illegal but nobody cares, and the amount of people I know who did other, harder drugs was unbelievable...I worry that a climate of tolerance for that drug leads to other things...

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  21. to Kaizen: nobody has died from the use of marijuana. One cannot overdose. One rather just falls asleep. To ingest the quantity of chemicals required to poison a person, that person will have to smoke the equivalent of a bale of MJ.

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  22. I honestly have never really had an opinion on this subject. I have never been offered the wacky tobaccy nor sought it out. Watching my grandfather die a terrible and slow death to emphysema convinced me to never smoke cigarettes, though I have had a couple stogies in my life. Whether it is legal or not, I guess it would fall into the category that of not to legislate morality, so if gambling, cigarettes, and alcohol are legal and (somewhat) controlled, maybe marijuana should be, too. And sure, tax the hell out of it so I don't have to pay as much in other taxes.

    I used to get really blitzed every weekend on cheap, fraternity beer my freshman year of college, mostly to fit in and feel good. But I never really did feel good for long.

    And God speaks really loudly when you go to church with a hangover, so it was hard not to hear and realize that I had two communities vying for my membership: a fraternity who wanted me to earn their brotherhood and an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship who welcomed me as a brother just as I was (broken, confused, and unsure). The choice was surprisingly simple to make, difficult to walk through, but truly life changing.

    2 years later, within that IVCF community, I learned to appreciate truly good beer on occasion, accompanied usually by very hot wings. It was no longer about escape or a feeling, but really about enjoying life within community.

    The depictions and stories I see and hear about smoking weed, whether by a person or in music/movies/news, never really indicate that type of experience so I've decided it isn't for me.

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  23. I definitely agree that legalizing marijuana and slapping a large tax on it would do wonders for this economy. However I think that in this case the consequences exceed the benefits.

    Aside from that, anybody that believes that marijuana is not as addictive as alcohol has never smoked marijuana. It is a highly addictive drug!

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  24. Been thinking about this more and trying to see the "keep it illegal" side better, and i feel like i can come up with reasonable (not necessarily best or even accurate, but at least sensible) arguments against most of my pro-legalization views. But then, every one of those arguments apply to against alcohol and tobacco as well. So, in the end it mostly feels like marijuana is simply misclassified. It should be treated like alcohol and tobacco, but for some apparently arbitrary reason it is not. Does anyone know historically why that is?

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  25. Disclaimer: Mary Jane virgin.
    Opinion: Seems to me we have enough free market options for screwing up kids and families already without adding another emotion-altering mix to the pharmaceutical shelves. There's something to be said for being "sober-minded" vs. "self-medicated."

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  26. @J (and others commenting on marijuana's addictive properties):

    Marijuana is not physically addictive. I would say it's addictive in the same way that sex and gambling are addictive, but even that's not true because it does not release endorphins in the same way.

    If anything, it's like the internet in the sense that it provides an escape. It may be hard for you to cut off your internet access for a while, but you won't suffer any negative physical reactions.

    Under these definitions of addiction, we'd be addicted to anything we enjoy doing and want to do again.

    In which case, I'm addicted to watching the Portland Trail Blazers. Let's ban them, too!

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  27. @karen:

    This may be the best anti-legalization point I've heard yet.

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  29. I'm already recovering from addictions to food, alcohol and tobacco. I don't need to add another.

    That being said, I think it's ridiculous that Oxycontin and other Rx drugs are legal, but MJ is not. It's hypocritical! Yes there are ethical issues, but MJ is much less addictive than nicotine or opiates such as oxycontin or vicodin.

    But what's keeping Jim Beam, Marlboro and Oxycontin legal and profitable? Lobbyists. Oxycontin ruined a friend's marriage. Her ex is living out of a car. Thanks, FDA for being so bribable.

    I'd like to see consistency in our legislation. Either legalize marijuana or ban tobacco and liquor. Or at least felonize all prescription opiates and the drug companies who make them.

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  30. @ Jordon -- this is what you get when you deal with a sober-minded woman who has spent countless hours listening to veterans rehash how they wasted too many years of their lives, self-medicating, and then lived to regret it.

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  31. This is a very big subject. On one hand, some people's body chemistry receive hallucinations and severe reactions to pot. And among other things, this is a way to hide emotional wounds without dealing with issues in your life. If Christ gave us a full time counselor... I don't think He wanted that. On the other is medical pain relief, rope and a possible cure for cancer. http://freepages.misc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~timgatewood/pot_cures_cancer.html
    I've smoked many times - even after becoming a believer - but I think my life now (without it) is much better. Subjective reasoning is good reasoning too.

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  32. I have a hard time caring about the issue because I don't use. I guess I'm for legalization for tax purposes since no one seems to care if people are using it anyway. I also don't see it as such a dangerous drug that can destroy lives or families like heroin or meth. I know plenty of hard-working, god-fearing Americans who use occasionally.

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  33. @karen zach

    Well, those in search of self-medication have quite a long list of legal options as it is. Is it really worth the massive cost of prohibition to keep marijuana off that list?

    I think our tax dollars would be far better spent focused on much more destructive drugs like meth and heroine. The cost in human lives (e.g. notice what's happening in Mexican border towns these days), quality of life for non-violent pot smokers and their families (prison, criminal records, etc), reduced law enforcement time for more serious problems, and sheer tax dollars (spending vs earning billions) seems like an awful high cost just to keep marijuana off the list of legal ways for troubled individuals to self-medicate.

    And if it really is worth it, then why isn't it worth it to ban alcohol? It seems inconsistent to me to be ok with one and not the other.

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  34. @nathan's comment about classification of pot:

    I seem to remember hearing somewhere that marijuana first became vilified when cotton plantation owners first perceived the production of hemp as a threat to their business. These plantation owners, in essence, created a whole wave of propaganda decrying the evils of marijuana, which led to it being outlawed, which conveniently led to financial stability for those growing cotton...

    No idea if this is true or not, and I can't remember where I heard/read it... But interesting.


    Personally, I've spent a sizable amount of time around people who were smoking pot. I've even smoked it myself on occasion. What I have noticed, however, is that attitudes towards marijuana seem to be closely connected to class and life prospects in general. When I was going to a poor, rural high school, many of my peers smoked weed to escape, to self-medicate, etc. Today, most of them are still doing so. In college (and therefore, FAR further up the financial ladder), my peers seemed to treat smoking pot as something much more recreational; the attitude was "It's fun to go hang out with friends and smoke pot every once in a while, but I'd never do this regularly. I've got school and work and life to look after."

    Obviously, this doesn't reflect the attitudes of all college students, but I think the important point here is that the social environment is just as influential in pushing a person into "addiction" as is the substance itself.

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  35. Medical Assistant for potApril 24, 2009 at 9:13 AM

    YES, there most certainly is a reason for Christians to want to see it legalized. It's called getting this very important medicine into the hands of people that need it. For example, my mom who has no cartilage in her knees and can't hardly walk at 60 years old and needs two knee replacements....how about her? Weed is the only medicine that really helps her, when she can get it. She's been on numerous LEGAL drugs for pain which make her sick and addicted. (Hear that? How about monitoring the toxicity levels for the multiple FDA approved medications these well-meaning but ignorant doctors prescribe that cause thousands of toxic combinations and sometimes FATAL reactions every year?) Codeine and narcotic prescriptions that she's addicted to, but can't live without because she lives in a state that doesn't allow her to get a far less dangerous medicine that you CAN'T overdose on and is a lot more natural than all the chemicals she has to take. All of her teeth have broken off...a side effect of these amazingly ineffective legal pain killers. And her Orthopaedic doctor said to her, "why don't you do pot? That would help. I don't want to do surgery on you because I'm afraid you would die on the operating table." Of course it would help. She knows that, and her doctor knows that. So government, why the problem here?

    A stumbling block? Sure for some, but so is free, legal downloadable porn. Porn doesn't take away excruciating pain though. Or maybe it does for some...I don't know. You take away the freedoms of people for the sake of safety, you end up sacrificing so much more than you could ever imagine. Personally, I rely on the Holy Spirit to keep me away from porn. So, don't go on the street corner and get pot, if it's a stumbling block. If it's legal, then don't go lie to your doctor and get him to write a prescription for it. Oh, but if you get an illness where you may really need it, well then.....

    And yes, I'm angry. It's the most painful thing in the world to watch someone you love in so much pain and know that the only substance that helps is out of reach. I'm furious at that. I can pray. I can speak up. But I know how easy it would be to see her pain free, and it kills me. And the government tells me I can't. Come on Barack. If you do one thing in office....please let this be it.

    As for the productivity argument, when my mom smoked before she worked third shift as a data entry secretary some 30 years ago, she could type 120-130 words a minute and make close to zero mistakes. If she did make a mistake she could pick out exactly where she made it. You try doing that on alcohol or even totally sober. I'm not saying it's like that for everyone, but that's bull that it would decrease productivity. How about an INCREASE in productivity because people who have severe illness now can work and WANT to work because they feel better? People who feel better and want to work and now no longer have to be on disability because of the pain/illness that keeps them from working. A MORE productive America? I think so. Now, I hear you. Not everyone is going to use it that way. But, not everyone "enjoys responsibly" that lovely brew of alcohol either. How much productivity is lost because of DUI's? Hangovers? Car accidents from alcohol? How many accidents do people get in because of pot use? A LOT less....no where near the numbers of alcohol users. hmm.....

    Gateway drug???? BULL!!! Pot smokers don't want that other crap! That's a lie, pure and simple. I truly believe that if someone wants to try a substance and they like pot, and it's legal, why would they want to then move on to coke or crack that's illegal and has a much different effect on your body? No, I haven't done crack, but when I was a lot younger I had a boyfriend that did. He didn't like pot. He liked crack. People are going to like what they like. Do what they do. But when the government steps in and tells me they're protecting me from going into harder drugs by making pot legal, that infuriates me. I have a brain. I know how to use it to not do crack, thank you very much. But, if I really wanted to do it, I could find a way to do it no matter how illegal you make it.

    Let's also take into account that when you tell someone not to do something, it makes it that much more appealing. It's a Biblical principle too. Romans 5:20, "The law was added so that the trespass might increase." emphasis mine. So, take away the forbiddenness. It just might loose it's appeal for some. Just an idea.

    By the way, I've been a Christian for 17 years, I work at a major hospital, have a degree in medical assisting, don't smoke or drink or anything harder....and I wish I could sit with all of my patients with pain or any diagnosis for that matter....pray for them, and then get them a script for some real "traditional" medicine. :D

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  36. Some informative history on the subject:

    http://blogs.salon.com/0002762/stories/2003/12/22/whyIsMarijuanaIllegal.html

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  37. I find this whole discussion so interesting. I have a brother who is a doctor and he is 100% behind the legalization of Marijuana for pain treatment, as was most of the students in his medical school. And so for me, making pot legal for medicinal purposes is kind of a no-brainer. But as far as legalizing it for the general population. I think it should be decriminalized (b/c frankly the punishment doesn't fit the crime) but not legal.

    As far as the "addictive" elements of pot go, there's just nothing to back that up. I've personally smoked it and, mew, it didn't really do much so maybe that's why I think about it that way. I DO think tho it can be debilitating for people's lives. And making it legal WOULD increase the number of people who would have access to the drug, hence there would be more ppl debilitated.

    NPR basically said, the most immediate effect would be that it'd be in the hands of a bunch more kids, which I think is bad. But on the other hand, I am a BIG fan of temperance and if you teach kids that moderation is really the key, things like pot and alcohol are FAR less likely to be debilitating. So, I'm basically on the fence with this.

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  38. I appreciate the information that was in the blog, taken from the show. To me, I see that legalizing something does not mean we are making it into a healthy and good thing to use/do for all people. It just means that we can control it differently than when it's illegal and that those who will use it for medicinal purposes (considering that all medicines alter the body/mind in some way) can do so without jumping through hoops. In my job, I see kids who don't get that there are unhealthy side affects to their use of marijuana and in fact use it to self-medicate to the point of it messing with their ability to function.

    I also agree with the person who said there should be a toxicity limit like there is with alcohol.

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  39. This was a great subject to cover. Thanks Jordan.

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