A Grassroots Effort

A Grassroots Effort
Posted by CN Staff on April 18, 2008 at 06:19:43 PT
By Laura Pitts, Senior Entertainment Reporter
Source: Crimson White
Alabama -- Unseen. That's how it tries to stay - hidden in pockets, behind car seats, in closets and under beds. Some who smoke it do so with pride. The rest hide in apartments or bathrooms, worried they will get caught.Weed, pot or cannabis - no matter what you call it, the effects are the same. But what's the hype behind smoking marijuana?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse's official Web site, a 2004 survey said 14.6 million Americans age 12 and older used marijuana at least once in the month prior to being surveyed.Robert Jenkot, an assistant professor of criminal justice, said most people who smoke marijuana do so for the same reason people drink alcohol underage - it is prohibited."Doing anything that is prohibited raises the feelings of rebellion and fitting in," Jenkot said. "College-age kids, in particular, are away from home - some for the first time - and they want to experience smoking or drinking, even if it is illegal." The NIDA cited government surveys saying some 20 million Americans have smoked marijuana in the past year, and more than 11 million do so regularly, despite harsh laws against its use. Numerous advocacy groups weigh the pros and cons on the issue of marijuana use, but, according to UA professor of family medicine Dr. Alan Blum, only one side can win."I've seen, on a pro and con Web site, that there have been no deaths directly attributed to the use of marijuana, but that shouldn't fool us into thinking that there aren't any long term effects of the drug," said Blum, director of the UA Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society. "The drug has effects not only on the user, but those in relation to the user. It's a dangerous substance that shouldn't be taken lightly." Smoke Break April 20 - this Sunday - has become the avid pot smokers' holiday. The term "4/20" commemorates a group of teenagers at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, Calif., in 1971 that would meet after school at 4:20 p.m. around the Louis Pasteur statue to smoke marijuana."Now, to commemorate either the issue of legalization or 'good ol' high school days,' people still smoke on the day," Jenkot said. Personal reasons for smoking cover a wide range. Some smoke to relax, others to have fun. There's even a small portion of the community using it for medical reasons."I think it's more recreation in Alabama than medical," said Allison Sperando, a junior majoring in visual journalism. "It's a way for people to have something to do when they are bored."Sperando said she doesn't think it's right to smoke pot, but she does have friends who smoke it."I'm not going to quit being their friends because of it," she said. "I just don't think it's right to smoke it, though."Lara Ellen Powell, a senior majoring in advertising, said people shouldn't smoke marijuana as long as it is illegal."If it is legalized, then it should be your own personal choice to use it," Powell said. "If it's still illegal, then you shouldn't do it."A UA student who asked to remain anonymous said she started smoking marijuana in the 10th grade. At first, she didn't like it and the only side effect she experienced was nausea."I just tried it with some girlfriends of mine," the junior marketing major said. "Older people had been smoking it and we were all curious."She said she smokes everyday and the amount she smokes isn't "a great deal." She said she prefers smoking marijuana to drinking alcohol and said smoking the drug allows a person to function better."I'm really bad at math and smoking helps me clam down and concentrate on my homework," she said.Legalizing marijuana, the junior said, would benefit society."I think our legal system focuses on trivial things," she said. "We waste so much time on those trivial things when we should be focused elsewhere."  A Forbidden Fruit  Blum said there are two extreme sides to the marijuana use issue."To say that smoking marijuana doesn't cause harm is completely nonsense," Blum said. "But to say it's the root of all evil is just as wrong."Blum said these sides of marijuana use must be looked at objectively, and people who use Internet sources and marijuana advocacy groups as sources need to be careful about information taken from those groups."The most misleading and disorganized group, I think, is NORML, because they discount the adverse effects of the drug," Blum said. "They act as if all these people that get caught with marijuana have had their lives ruined and therefore a solution is to make it all legal." NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is the oldest marijuana reform lobby group in the country and claims to have helped with the decriminalization of marijuana in several states.Ron Fisher, national outreach coordinator for NORML, said the group doesn't promote the use of marijuana, but has strong opinions about the arrests of more than 800,000 people a year."Eighty-nine percent of those arrested are for possession only," Fisher said. "It's a huge strain on our national budget during a time when we are straining for every government dollar."Other than committing the offense of smoking marijuana, this 89 percent is made of otherwise law-abiding, tax-paying citizens, Fisher said. "We shouldn't be jailing people because of the short-term effects of marijuana," Fisher said. "It's a 24-hour thing, not a crazy trip, like using LSD."Currently, 12 states have decriminalized marijuana use. Fisher said NORML is a major factor in the changes of those particular states' laws."Today, we focus on grassroots stuff and try to get the view of the people out there," Fisher said. "We want tell the reality of the fact that [marijuana] is not dangerous and relatively harmless - not like methamphetamines, which should be the focus on the $24 million drug budget."Alabama state law says that anyone in possession of marijuana is a criminal and can be arrested. According to NORML, with the possession of one kilogram (2.2 lbs) or less, the crime is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. For possession of any amount over one kilogram, the crime is a felony, punishable by one to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. The worst thing that can happen to someone - especially a college student - caught smoking pot, Fisher said, is going to jail."As a college student, if you are caught with any amount of marijuana, you lose all access to student aid," Fisher said. "If you are dependent on food stamps, you can lose access to that, as well."NORML acknowledges that marijuana is not 100 percent safe. However, they say all the data shows marijuana is much safer than alcohol."Drunk-driving due to excessive alcohol intake kills 50,000 people each year and tobacco kills 400,000 people each year," Fisher said. "Achieving an overdose of marijuana isn't possible. I think it takes about 500 puffs in a minute to cause an overdose."Though smoking anything does produce carcinogens harmful to the body, Fisher said there are two safe ways to consume marijuana: eating and vaporization."Vaporization is basically just heating the air around it without burning it," Fisher said. "Both effects are 100 percent safe."Blum, however, said he doesn't see anything good in using marijuana."I don't understand the cause of some advocacy groups," Blum said. "If the cause is to get a lot of first-time offenders out of jail that haven't hurt anybody, I couldn't agree more. The people at NORML [say] that this stuff is good, it can't hurt and anyone should have the right to use it. It's a bizarre logic and they are very a dishonest organization."According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse research report series on marijuana abuse, when marijuana is smoked, its effects begin immediately after the drug enters the brain and last from one to three hours. NIDA also said heavy use of marijuana use can impair a person's ability to recall events and, though a user may experience pleasant sensations and bright colors and sounds, the user's hands may tremble and grow cold, and he or she may feel sleepy or depressed. Occasionally, use of the drug can produce a range of emotions such as fear, anxiety, distrust and panic, as well as an increased heart rate, impaired coordination and balance and an increased risk of cancer in the head, neck and lungs, NIDA said. "The bottom line is that using marijuana is illegal and there are serious health problems that can be obtained by using it," Jenkot said.Blum called marijuana a "highly-potent drug targeted straight to the brain with immediate effects."Fisher said the NIDA overstates side effects of marijuana use, one in particular being depression."Sadly, NIDA doesn't often provide productive footnotes," Fisher said. Fisher has done studies on marijuana use in Amsterdam and said that most people there consume marijuana through eating. This can take time for the drug to take affect and when it does, it's only a temporary 'high.'"Alcohol can cause rage and depression as well," Fisher said. "The real question is whether or not the side effects are worth taking."Fisher said it's ultimately up to the user."Marijuana won't kill you and doesn't cause any long-term psychological damage," he said.Blum said he always had a certain sympathy for the organization because it claimed to be sticking up for people who'd been in prison for merely possessing marijuana. "If what NORML says is true - that using the drug doesn't haven any psychological effects - then they're truly reckless and well-beyond the scope of their alleged mission," he said.Although he doesn't know if marijuana use is a marker for criminal behavior, it has helped eliminate some criminal risks, Blum said."Police who search someone and find marijuana often lead to the arrest of some pretty dangerous critters," Blum said. "I think it does keep dangerous people off the street."  Curbing The Pain - Legally  There is much heated debated over whether marijuana should be legalized for medical patients who could benefit from use of the drug.Vending machines in Los Angeles provide people suffering from chronic illnesses like cancer a valid supply of marijuana. The amount of marijuana is limited to an ounce per week and those purchasing the drug must have a valid ID, patient fingerprints and doctor's prescription.As for marijuana use by chronically ill medical patients, Blum said the short-term effects of use to reduce nausea can be found in other medicines. However, he said he doesn't think it's any better to deprive someone who is dying of a potential medicine that can ease chronic pain."It would be like depriving a dying diabetic of a cookie," Blum said. "If they want to smoke it instead of take it as a pill, that's up to them. It's not helping their lungs any better though."Besides a health and social issue, Jenkot said the fight to either legalize or keep marijuana illegal is a political issue."The government has had its hand in the issue since the beginning," Jenkot said. "Keeping it illegal benefits them, as well as the pharmaceutical companies."As long as the drug is illegal, then you have to go to a pharmacy to get your medicine or 'drug.' If marijuana is legalized, then people won't be coming to the pharmacy to purchase their drugs or other pain medicines."For Blum, there is plenty of room for negotiation of merely possessing the drug. Legalizing the drug, he said, makes it like a Hostess Twinkie - a potential mass production on one item."I think, unfortunately, that it is an all-or-nothing problem with an all-or-nothing approach to fixing that problem," Blum said. "Groups like NORML whitewash all adversaries on the drug and they may be deceiving you on other areas as well."Note: Experts debate the effects and laws of marijuana.Source: Crimson White, The (Edu, Univ of Alabama)Author: Laura Pitts, Senior Entertainment ReporterPublished: April 18, 2008Copyright: 2008 The Crimson WhiteContact: cwletters -- Cannabis Archives 
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