Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Getting out of our potholes

While elected officials have the ability to enact laws, institute policies and make regulations, sports stars and actors can make the media — and the masses — pay attention to the issues that they care about. As the debate over legalizing marijuana in Rhode Island has sparked up — primarily with the help of Governor Chafee’s “pot for potholes” interview — I was fascinated to read about a Houston Astros player, Jon Singleton, who talked about his addiction to marijuana and how it almost ruined his professional career. While Chafee waxed on about the amount of revenue marijuana could bring from users, Singleton gave a sobering interview about what the drug almost cost him.

We don’t need to hear from a long line of celebrities or read the many studies on the health impacts of marijuana to know that legalizing it is a bad idea. Let’s face it, smoking pot is not good for you and it never will be. I’m tired of hearing people say that marijuana is no worse than cigarettes or alcohol. No, marijuana is not heroin, but it’s not harmless either. Remember that “pothead” from high school? Where’s he now?  We have plenty of proof that pot is harmful and addictive and cracking open the Pandora’s box of regulating it and taxing it is shortsighted and irresponsible. Marijuana is an “entry level drug” that hampers one’s ability to think straight and can lead to more serious drug use. According to the NIH, 61% of persons under 15 entering rehab reported marijuana as their primary drug of abuse. What more do we need to know?

The truth is that we wouldn’t be having a conversation about legalizing marijuana if there weren’t many millions of dollars in tax revenue attached to the proposal. Governor Chafee and others looking to “regulate” marijuana are not interested in controlling the drug trade or acting in the best interests of public health, they simply want to add more money to the pile that they get to spend, leaving Rhode Islanders with less. The message to children is horrible: “Just say no to drugs, but Mommy should have a bong hit before breakfast because it will fund our roads and bridges.” It’s a sad day when we look to fill government coffers by selling drugs to our citizens.

While we don’t have a sports star like Singleton to make the case in Rhode Island, I am hopeful that former Congressman Patrick Kennedy will use his considerable clout to battle this unfortunate proposal. As an addict and someone who spent his fair share of time in rehab, his perspective and his passion will be valuable if clearer heads are to prevail.

Rhode Island has some serious problems. Our economy needs to grow, people need jobs and we need to make sure that all of our children have the best shot at a successful adulthood. Debating the relative harm of marijuana versus alcohol or analyzing the potential revenues that could be gleaned from this predatory proposal is a waste of time and misses the big picture. Let’s get our heads out of our potholes and get back to the issues at hand.

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