High times? A new low for Connecticut

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To be candid, I smoked marijuana in my teens. Why? I guess to “fit in” and quell, however ineffectively, adolescent angst.

I kicked this budding habit before I could drive and never looked back. It was not the path for me. Many of my peers, however, continued. They would get high regularly, even aggressively. A good number of them never earned a high school diploma or fully regained their potential. I watched the same cycle unfold in college. Years later, teaching high school, I saw marijuana’s impact again.

While troubling personal issues were undoubtedly a factor, the use of marijuana—then illegal nationally—played no small role in these outcomes. Scientific research suggests that the drug alters thinking, perception and focus in young brains especially, in addition to its long-term toll on physical health and threat to public safety. Some of these same people I knew eventually tired of marijuana’s predictability and turned to much more potent drugs. If not for the timely intervention of people in my life, I have often wondered if this could have been me. Now in my early 50s, I more fully understand the steep and perilous slope of drug use. It’s easy to get lost, especially for the young.

So I watch, astonished, as more Connecticut lawmakers declare their support for legalizing recreational marijuana. Their advocacy suggests quick and easy benefits. Peddling weed in neon-lit emporiums throughout our state, it seems, is the panacea for our woes—economic and otherwise.

But legalizing marijuana for “recreation” is a draconian shift in public policy and a shock to our social mores and societal health. Legalized marijuana will indelibly change Connecticut; the state will become a different place, coarser and with a more ambiguous future. Many people who would otherwise avoid this drug will use it. And why not? It will be marketed as exciting and essentially harmless. Even though legalization would be intended for adults, barriers would be porous and easily breached. And the message that legalization sends, both insidious and hypocritical, would not be lost on the young. They will get it, consume it and use will spike. And then …

Marijuana is a gateway drug. Ask any user of hard narcotics and their first drug encounter likely began with a joint furtively shared among friends. We are now in the midst of an opioid epidemic claiming many hundreds of lives annually in Connecticut alone. This scourge is urban and rural, black and white, young and old. It is a mounting public health calamity. How can we openly encourage what is a beginner drug while grieving addiction’s final toll?

As the father of a son, still too young to know what marijuana is, I do not want to raise him in an environment where drugs are the new normal—celebrated and chic. He will be influenced by this milieu and the temptations and opportunities for him to try marijuana will multiply as he matures. So will it be for the quiet girl living nearby and all the other young people in our small town and throughout our cities and villages. Marijuana’s influence will infiltrate every home. For too many, legality will spark an embrace of drugs that will impact their life’s trajectory. Too often there will be outcomes that none of us desires for our own children.

And our state, now a partner in the drug trade and profiting handsomely, will be complicit in the human sorrow and suffering that ensues.

Yes, Connecticut will collect more taxes with legalized marijuana and this might ease, but never come close to solving, our financial spiral. For our $1 billion-plus deficits, residents deserve better, honest solutions. This current fiscal abyss deepened slowly—the product of government irresponsibility and public apathy. Residents cannot permit this unwholesome union—again.

I have no problem with medicinal marijuana to alleviate suffering, and I support reviewing overly punitive laws for possession. Small amounts of the drug should probably be decriminalized. But legalizing marijuana for wholesale consumption is an awful idea. Connecticut should not attempt to solve its current problems by embracing policies that will bring a surge of more fundamental troubles. Research into the health effects of marijuana is limited and much remains unknown. What is known is troubling enough.

Post-legalization, Connecticut would awake to find itself still broke, morally hollowed and with a citizenry—of all ages—more drug addled and ravaged than ever.

Michael Greenwood lives in Durham.

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