Chad Israelson: Legalizing marijuana won't end the world as we know it

When debating controversial subjects, public discussions often veer toward what could be classified as fantastical worst case scenarios. These are hypothetical situations, based not on evidence but exaggerated assumptions about what would happen if this or that action was taken.

Because we tend to fear change and things we do not understand, FWCS are conjured up, injected into the debate and too easily accepted.

For example, when the conceal carry law went before the Legislature, opponents claimed that shootouts would turn Minnesota into a version of the Wild West. The reality is that the vast majority of gun owners are responsible adults, and there have been very few permit carriers who have abused the privilege.

Another example is when opponents of same-sex marriage fretted that heterosexual marriages would be undermined, and it would instigate the downfall of society. As we have seen in the past seven months, the primary result has been that thousands of same-sex couples have been able to enjoy a new level of legal commitment with each other. Again, the FWCS did not come true.

Now, medical marijuana is in front of the Minnesota Legislature. For the record, I have a 16-year-old son, and the points I argue in this column are topics that we have discussed. Whether to try marijuana is among numerous choices young adults face.


Legalizing marijuana — in total or just for medical purposes — will not magically improve society, and of course there are some risks involved. However, our current laws prohibiting marijuana are wasteful, hypocritical, and failing. The FWCS concerning pot's medical use or legalization are many, but based upon mostly hollow or paltry evidence. This is especially true if we consider marijuana among the accepted drugs that are used either recreationally or medicinally — alcohol, tobacco and prescription painkillers.

There are several arguments that are immediately used every time legalization is brought up. First, marijuana is a gateway drug. Granted, those who take harder drugs often experiment with marijuana first; however, hard drug users also have experience with some, if not all, of the accepted trio mentioned above. In fact, numerous studies show that if anything, alcohol use and age when one starts drinking is a better indicator of future drug use. Therefore, alcohol is a "gateway" drug.The majority of marijuana smokers never try harder drugs.

Second, we hear concerns that people who perform vital jobs will be stoned while performing those tasks, putting the public in danger. Well, why would those people smoke pot if they do not now? Once again, studies indicate that states with medical marijuana do not have significant increases in usage after those laws are passed, though they typically had higher rates of use before legalization. Why should we assume that school bus drivers, surgeons and bridge builders are suddenly going to be compelled to smoke pot?

Another argument is,"We don't want to set bad examples for kids." This is another mostly false assumption that suggests the floodgates would be thrown wide open, and our children would have considerably easier access to the drug. The problem is that our society's drug attitudes are hypocritical. We allow for some drug use and not others, these mixed messages do not deter youngsters but rather cause them to doubt the veracity of what they hear.

In fact, when we compare marijuana to the three categories of legal drugs mentioned earlier, we find that marijuana is notthe most addictive, the most damaging to one's health or destructive to society. The behavior of young people who do not use legal or illegal drugs is guided largely by their choice, not a lack of access.

Our current prohibition against marijuana costs too much money and has a disproportionately damaging impact on minorities who are arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than whites. Simply put, our current approach is no more effective than alcohol prohibition of the 1920s, and the hypocrisy is greater.

Twenty other states have medical marijuana, and two states have legalized it for recreational use. Whenlast I checked, marijuana-related catastrophes were not destroying any of them. And Colorado collected $2 million in marijuana taxes last month.

Legalization, if only for medical use, is supported by the majority of Minnesotans. We need to start having realistic, adult-level conversations on the matter, not ones laden with misunderstanding and far-fetched hypothetical notions.


I have neither the time nor inclination to smoke marijuana or get drunk, butresponsible adults should have greater freedom of choice to do as they please, if they harm no one. Minnesotans are a common-sense bunch, and the Fantastical Worst Case Scenarios, once again, will not be realized.

Chad Israelson teaches history at Rochester Community and Technical College.

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