It’s been almost 45 years since the Summer of Love, and not since that time, has there been such a strong public push for legalization of marijuana. Libertarian types are all in favor, and many modern conservatives are simply tired of trying to combat weed. Liberals have always been for legalization, they began the movement back in the radical 60s. Of course, Nixon put the kibosh on this with his War on Drugs, which many modern conservatives don’t seem to have the heart to support anymore. It seems the lone holdouts are the social conservatives, who staunchly oppose any sort of legalization effort.

Now, if you look to the internet to get a feel for where people stand, you are getting a somewhat slanted perspective. Social conservatives are way behind the curve on social media, they don’t generally frequent forums and blogs to interject their social moral values, but they do show up at the polls to vote when the time comes. Politicians understand this, and that’s why you don’t see a huge political effort to legalize pot, despite the seeming popularity of the idea.

Today, I am going to attempt to explore the issue in a fair and unbiased way.

Let me start by admitting, I am an occasional marijuana user. I have been smoking pot since my early 20s, but have never been an everyday user. On average, I may smoke pot once every couple of months, usually when hanging out with friends who partake, or on a weekend music festival jaunt. I put it in the category of a ‘guilty pleasure’ and that’s kind of where it has always been for me. I have friends who use everyday, and have been since the 60s or before. So I can fully understand and relate to those who want to see it legalized, and at the same time, I also see the argument against it. Let’s begin by looking at the argument against it, as articulated by the government’s leading authorities on the subject.

From the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

THC acts upon specific molecular targets on brain cells, called cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are ordinarily activated by chemicals similar to THC called endocannabinoids, such as anandamide. These are naturally occurring in the body and are part of a neural communication network (the endocannabinoid system) that plays an important role in normal brain development and function.

The highest density of cannabinoid receptors is found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement. Marijuana overactivates the endocannabinoid system, causing the high and other effects that users experience. These include distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and disrupted learning and memory.

Research clearly demonstrates that marijuana has the potential to cause problems in daily life or make a person’s existing problems worse. In fact, heavy marijuana users generally report lower life satisfaction, poorer mental and physical health, relationship problems, and less academic and career success compared to their peers who came from similar backgrounds. For example, marijuana use is associated with a higher likelihood of dropping out from school. Several studies also associate workers’ marijuana smoking with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims, and job turnover.

Research has shown that, in chronic users, marijuana’s adverse impact on learning and memory persists after the acute effects of the drug wear off; when marijuana use begins in adolescence, the effects may persist for many years. Research from different areas is converging on the fact that regular marijuana use by young people can have long-lasting negative impact on the structure and function of their brains.

A recent study of marijuana users who began using in adolescence revealed a profound deficit in connections between brain areas responsible for learning and memory. And a large prospective study (following individuals across time) showed that people who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teens lost as much as 8 points in IQ between age 13 and age 38; importantly, the lost cognitive abilities were not restored in those who quit smoking marijuana as adults. (Individuals who started smoking marijuana in adulthood did not show significant IQ declines.)

As we can clearly see, the opposing viewpoint does have merit. There are also concerns regarding use of marijuana and operating motor vehicles. A person who is high on pot, is twice as likely to have an accident. Combining pot and alcohol is considerably worse than either of the two by themselves. This means, legalizing pot would necessarily increase traffic accidents and deaths on the highways, just as a matter of due course. The “it’s not harming anyone, let them do it” crowd, should consider the consequences before they lament. What do you say when a bus drivers kills a load of school kids and it’s revealed his THC levels were astronomical? Did it harm someone? Do we not have the moral obligation to protect our children?

We know by the research, it is detrimental to young people, it has profound effects on brain function, learning abilities, and retards academic achievement. We know that it’s a potential public safety risk as well, so the argument that “it’s not harming anyone” is foolish and short-sighted. Contrary to popular belief, we know that pot can also be addictive. In fact, as many as 9% of users become addicted. Health problems range from the aforementioned learning and perception problems, to cardiovascular and heart problems, and the same kinds of lung problems as cigarette smokers experience, with the exception of lung cancer, which is not as prevalent for pot smokers.

In fact, the main problem with marijuana as a drug, is the delivery system. Any time you ingest smoke into the lungs, it’s bad for your health. The smoke produces tar and residue, go clean out your bong pipes and see what comes out of there. That’s going into your lungs. When it breaks down and enters your blood, it has a tendency to form plaque in the arteries, which can build up over time. If this plaque fragments, which is often the case, a small shard can move to your brain and cause a stroke. People who smoke cigarettes or pot, are far more likely to have strokes.

Of course, pot smoking advocates of legalization will swear there are no harmful effects, but you see, when people have strokes, it doesn’t get written up as being caused by excessive pot smoking, nor do heart attacks or any other complications resulting from habitual use. These things fly under the radar, and aren’t a huge problem now because pot is illegal and not relatively many people use it because of that. Of those who do, and suffer health problems, most of them aren’t confessing to the doc that they were pulling on the bong when they stroked out or went into coronary arrest. So we have no idea of what the long-term health ramifications might be, should we completely legalize pot and make it a commercially available product like tobacco and alcohol.

Okay, so you are probably thinking that I am some stick in the mud fundie who is just dead set against pot smokers, but like I said, I am an occasional user. I don’t see any more harm in that, than an occasional shot of good Kentucky Bourbon or a fine cigar. I also realize we are a diverse society with different opinions than my own, and that federal government shouldn’t have the power to control our lives and liberties, as long as we conduct ourselves in a manner respectful of the safety of others and society in general. That said, what is my personal viewpoint? I advocate federal decriminalization of marijuana. Not legalization, not commercial production, but simply make it no longer a felony offense to possess or grow small amounts for personal use. States would be free to pass their own laws regarding pot, but allowing it to be sold as a commercial product would not be acceptable. This would free up tremendous law enforcement resources to go after the meth heads and crack junkies, and get that horrible mess off the streets. It would free up space in our jails for people who are responsible for destroying lives and ruining human beings with chemical concoctions and literal poison. Marijuana is natural, it is a weed, and while it has both good and bad properties, it’s not the worst thing a person can do to themselves, and it’s not a miracle drug.