• Maryam Fatima

Why I'm Concerned About Legalizing Marijuana

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

Image: cannabis (via Google)

It’s November 4th, a day after the 2020 General Election and New Jersey, my home state, has just announced that it will officially pass legislation to legalize recreational Marijuana.

It’s no surprise that the vast majority of people my age is in support of this. Many college students just want to experience the thrill of smoking weed without the fear of getting in trouble with authorities, and that’s understandable. Legalizing recreational marijuana will stop this from happening. It can also create an abundance of jobs and reduce the likelihood of people trying to obtain this substance through the black market, where there is no guarantee that the product would be authentic and safe to use.

Admittedly, I also ended up choosing “yes” on my ballot to legalize recreational weed, but that’s mainly for one reason and (probably) one reason only. Arrests due to the possession or use of marijuana disproportionately impact communities of color. As I mentioned in my earlier blog post about racial inequities in America, African Americans, in particular, are incarcerated at five times the rate of whites and make up approximately 38% of the prison system, despite making up only 13% of the US population. Given this, it is no surprise that, despite equal usage rates, they are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for unlawful marijuana use, according to the ACLU. Therefore, I believe that legalizing weed will help us in our fight against institutional racism.

So why am I concerned about legalizing marijuana, despite voting in favor of it? Well, there are a number of reasons. One of them is that recreational drug use goes against my personal values. Even though smoking marijuana is deemed to be less harmful than drinking alcohol, I find them to be the same thing. They are both addictive and can impair your cognitive and motor abilities if you consume too much of it. The more often you consume them, the more likely you are to become physically dependent on them, therefore, it is better to avoid them completely.

Another reason is the link between marijuana use and traffic accidents. For example, in the state of Colorado, marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by more than 20% since it was legalized. There were about 138 deaths in 2017, more than double the number in 2013. In the state of Washington, the proportion of drivers in fatal crashes who tested positive for THC (the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana) more than doubled following legalization.

You also have to consider the effect that legalizing marijuana will have on young people, specifically, those under the age of 21. Legalizing weed will undoubtedly make it easier for children and teens to access it. According to the AACAP, adolescents who use marijuana may have difficulties with memory and concentration, experience increased aggression and even worsening mental health problems, and are at an increased risk for car accidents. Long-term use of marijuana can even lead to Cannabis Use Disorder, lower intelligence, and serious mental health problems like depression or schizophrenia.

And it is not only adolescents that I am worried about. Many adults report using cannabis or other substances as a way to deal with stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions. Allowing recreational use of marijuana will only encourage people to resort to harmful ways of coping with problems when they are plenty of healthy ways to do so. For example, doing yoga and breathing exercises, reading Quran or engaging in spiritual activities, doing mindfulness and meditation, drinking tea, exercising or going for outdoor walks, and so on. There are so many healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety, but now that the door is open for adults to use recreational weed, I’m afraid that’s what many people will resort to instead.

Of course, many people will argue that marijuana is one of those “safer” drugs, and while that may be true to some extent, there are still a number of harms associated with repeated use of it. It can impair our cognitive and motor abilities, exacerbate feelings of anxiety, and put us at an increased risk for physical dependency because of its addictive nature. Thus, the notion of marijuana being “safe” and “harmless” is not entirely true, and we need to stop fooling ourselves into believing that it is.

Although legalizing recreational marijuana use does have its benefits, that does not mean that we should be turning a blind eye to its possible harms. As a driver, I am concerned about the possibility of increased traffic accidents that is correlated with legalizing marijuana, and as the oldest of three siblings, the last thing I want is for my younger brother and sister to become exposed to cannabis because of how much easier it would be to access it. And as a Muslim, it saddens me to see that many people in my community are using it and even making the claim that “it’s not haram” just because it’s not explicitly mentioned in the Quran.

If New Jersey is going to proceed with this legalization, then it needs to do so responsibly. This may include enforcing strict consequences for underage use (maybe not imprisonment though, but heavy fines, mandatory community service, etc) and making advertisements warning people against marijuana addiction and promoting responsible use of it. In addition, schools should continue to have educational programs about drug use and addiction, perhaps placing a heavier emphasis on marijuana. These are just a few ideas that can be implemented.

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