This is the question that law -abiding citizens of Washington and Colorado face now that both states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for people over the age of 21.
The laws passed by voters last week allow of-age citizens to possess or buy up to one ounce of marijuana at any given time.
While we are divided on the medical use of marijuana, we understand that in many cases it can ease the pain, nausea and anxiety of people suffering serious ills.
Using marijuana for recreational use is another thing altogether.
After all, it is considered a Schedule I controlled substance by the federal government according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
As stated by the feds, in their eyes the drug has a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use in treatment and the safety of the drug is not accepted for use under medical supervision.
It is a contentious decision on the states’ behalf because those in the business of cultivating, selling, distributing and facilitating any of these activities are still in violation of federal law and are therefore subject to federal enforcement and prosecution.
By allowing people to freely use marijuana, Colorado and Washington have opened the door for slew of questions.
Marijuana is already the most frequently used illicit substance in the U.S., and some studies show that states with medical marijuana laws have higher odds of marijuana abuse and dependence than those without.
In turn, the states must anticipate the daily use of the drug becoming a norm for a larger percent of the population, just as cigarettes have.
Studies show that people who use marijuana have higher depression rates, Attention Deficit Disorder, memory problems and other underlying psychological differences. It is still to be conclusively seen if marijuana actually causes these conditions or if people with them seek out marijuana. At worst, it seems, marijuana exacerbates these issues.
Some feel the number of people who suffer with all of these things has the potential to skyrocket.
What then? Do we treat them in the state and federally funded mental health system even though the federal government doesn’t condone the use of the drug?
Because the drug alters the chemicals of the brain, marijuana can impair driving as well. Are the state governments prepared to develop a driving test for those using the drug, as they do with alcohol?
Some claim marijuana is a gateway drug, leading users to more severe forms of substance abuse. Another correlation/causality argument could be made here as people likely to do hard drugs might also be likely to try marijuana and because of it’s availability on the street it may be the first one they try.
Regulation and the separation from the illicit drug market will largely solve this problem. If you don’t have to buy your pot from a heroin dealer, you are less likely to buy heroin.
One question that remains is: How will the government regulate the amount of pot that people are allowed to maintain at any given time?
The laws do not clearly state how the states will control the amount that is bought or possessed. It’s important to know so users can avoid breaking the law, and police can enforce it against those who abuse the system.
Many people that are in favor of the legalization of the drug for recreational use say that it is a natural and holistic drug because it comes from a plant.
To those advocates we ask, would you also condone the recreational use of psychedelic mushrooms?
This drug, which is also illegal, is just as natural as any strain of cannabis. It may come from the earth but that doesn’t mean that it will refrain from negatively affecting a person’s neurochemicals, thus altering motor skills, speech, sight and emotions.
That being said, multiple studies show that marijuana is no more harmful, and often even less harmful, than alcohol or tobacco.
If the federal government does legalize marijuana, the states’ should put the tax money collected from the sales of the drug to public service ads that warn citizens of the risks, like they do for tobacco and alcohol.
Either way, both the state and federal government need to proceed carefully and be clear on the laws to protect citizens’ rights.