North Carolina legislators should proceed cautiously as they consider Senate Bill 711, which will legalize medical marijuana. State businesses, seeing huge revenue opportunities, are already lining up to convince the legislative proponents to consider legalizing “pot” for recreational use as well, with the anticipation that it will generate huge profits and subsequently significant tax revenues.
It is enticement of added tax revenues that is being used to convince the legislature to open the door for recreational use.
The bipartisan bill is scheduled for a July 20 hearing by the Senate Committee on Finance, one of several committee reviews that are required before it can be brought to the full chamber for consideration. The N.C. Compassionate Care Act bill legalizes the prescription of medical marijuana for patients suffering from a set group of diseases to include cancer, epilepsy, positive HIV or AIDS status or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
This week, US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he is making it a top priority of his office to eliminate the prohibition of the use of marijuana for any purpose, recreation or medical, announcing that “At long last it (the senate) would take steps to right the wrongs of the failed war on drugs.”
Senator Schumer’s description of “war on drugs” is indicative of the misconception of the problem. Drug abuse is not an acute event that can be won as a battle. Drug abuse is symptomatic of a long term, chronic disease better known as addiction. Wars by their nature are efforts to win a final victory over an opponent, in this case drug abuse, and then to be done with the effort. That is not the case with the various social wars being “waged” for societal benefits such as the war on poverty, obesity, smoking and drugs; are all doomed to fail as wars.
Drug abuse is merely symptomatic of an ongoing chronic addiction problem that will only be controlled but never defeated. Every year there is a new addiction problem such as the recently identified addiction to gaming and cellphone usage. More addictions will be soon to follow.
These issues will never be fully conquered and the faster we recognize this the quicker we will come to grips with both the means and abilities to handle these chronic problems.
The economic arguments and the push by businesses to open up recreational marijuana use ignore the potential long term damage that removing controls on this substance will have on society. There is no question there are already numerous substances, including alcohol and nicotine from either cigarettes or vapes, that are creating havoc. But that is no reason to open the door to yet another opportunity for substance abuse that many in law enforcement and drug counseling consider a gateway drug to other more addictive substances.
As Sen. Schumer was making his announcement, The New York Times published a story with the headline, “It’s Huge, It’s Historic, It’s Unheard-of : Drug Overdose Deaths Spike.” In that story, reporters Josh Katz and Margot Sanger-Katz noted that drug overdose deaths in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control, numbered 93,000 - a 30% increase over the previous high.
News-Times reporter Cheryl Burke, detailed in the July 11 edition, the efforts of Hope Recovery Homes, a Christian ministry providing a rehabilitation program for individuals seeking to recover from alcohol and drug addictions. Her story notes that the county recorded 316 overdose deaths last year and the numbers for 2021 are unfortunately on pace with the previous year.
The problem is so significant that Carteret County Sheriff Asa Buck has equipped his patrol deputies with NARCAN, a substance that counteracts the physiological impacts of acute opioid overdoses. Many of the local police departments are doing the same thing.
Sheriff Buck has expressed frustration over the continued push to legalize recreational use of marijuana. He, as do several legislators who are supporting medical marijuana, acknowledges that it is a useful medical tool for patients. But the sheriff’s primary concern is that it can be used for recreational purposes with very little effort.
Commenting on recent polls that show public support for the initiative, Sheriff Buck is frustrated with the poll conclusions showing that upwards to 60% of those asked are supportive of legalizing marijuana for recreational use. He contends that because the current use of recreational “pot” is illegal, the vast majority of the public has little experience for the basis of a response.
The sheriff argues correctly, that the only valuable survey audience would be those who have firsthand experience in working with drug users, such as law enforcement, emergency medical crews, and firefighters along with teachers and drug counselors. They encounter recreational marijuana and other drug users in the course of their day-to- day jobs so they will have a more intelligent response to any survey questions.
The legislature needs to clearly understand that while the business community supporting recreational use of marijuana has only dollars in its collective eyesight, the public will be left with smoke in its collective eyes dealing with the impacts of broken families and lives. The focus should not wander from the bill’s intended purpose- providing compassionate care.