Last updated: April 25. 2014 11:21AM - 1465 Views
Steena Hymes shymes@civitasmedia.com



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Public support in favor of relaxed marijuana laws are at an all-time high according to the Pew Research Center. A study shows that support for legalization is at 54 percent and 76 percent believe that those convicted of possessing small amounts should not serve jail time.


Jamie Daniel with the Troup County Prevention Coalition said the debate over marijuana is the most polarizing fight yet.


Diane Harrell, a LaGrange resident, mother and president of the school’s parent association says she is “sort of OK with it.”


Harrell said she is surprised with the number of people who aren’t opposed to marijuana.


Her concern, she said, is the attitude of young people towards marijuana. Not surprisingly, Harrell said young people have the same feelings towards marijuana as they do alcohol. She stressed how teenagers are still maturing and developing and worries that, though it may be less physically detrimental than alcohol, it could have consequences on their mind and judgement.


Daniel said when asking all 15 teenagers on her youth advisory board, every one of them said marijuana is easier to get than alcohol.


If legalization or decriminalization is passed in the future, Harrell said it will be up to the adults to focus on educating the teenagers on responsible use.


According to the Pew Research study, 69 percent of people believe alcohol is more harmful to the body and to society than marijuana.


Scott Smith, D.U.I Drug Court Coordinator said it is a myth that marijuana is not addictive and in his experience with participants, it is something they have a problem with.


He added that there is certainly a connection between marijuana and use of other illegal drugs.


James Bell, pro marijuana, started the Georgia Campaign for Access, Reform and Education. He argues that prohibition actually causes more harm than marijuana use could ever.


“The law is destroying people’s lives, people’s careers and people’s educational opportunities,” Bell said.


Bell said his advocacy group is encouraged by the public response and the support for marijuana is overwhelming. He stated that polls in Georgia show 62 percent in favor.


“If you’re an adult, you should have the right to choose what you do to your body, your mind and what you do with your time,” he said.


Another one of Bell’s arguments is that as long as tobacco and alcohol is legal, marijuana should be also. He called out the double standard for its irony and hypocrisy.


Daniel said Alcohol costs the nation 185 billion dollars a year and tobacco costs 200 billion dollars a year socially, meaning legal fees, jail time, medical bills, therapy bills, etc.


“They are by far costing us as American people more than the benefit that we receive so why would we open a third door,” she said.


Bell is also fighting for decimalization of marijuana saying using marijuana is a victimless crime and people should not be put in jail for it.


Daniel countered this argument citing a study done by SAM: Smart Approaches to Marijuana, that less than 1 percent of all state inmates were behind bars for marijuana possession only. The study shows that most committed more serious crimes in addition to having marijuana on them.


Daniel said the public has a large misunderstanding of marijuana thinking it is “yesterday’s marijuana.”


“The average man on the street does not understand modern marijuana,” she said. “People think that this is a Woodstock, lovey-dovey, lets hold hands and sing Cumbaya, and listen to Jerry Garcia while we smoke our old school weed. What people don’t realize is that marijuana potency is five times stronger than 1960.”


Daniel also cites Colorado, one of the only two states to legalize recreational use of marijuana, as already having issues since the legislation change including increase in related emergency room visits, teens use and related car wrecks.


Washington Times reports that legislators in Colorado are already looking to tighten marijuana laws after two deaths relating to marijuana use.


According to the article, a 19 year old jumped to his death after eating a marijuana-laced cookie and a 47 year old shot and killed his wife after a combination of candy marijuana and prescription pills cause him to hallucinate.


Though Georgia legislation has been slow to enact any marijuana laws, Gov. Nathan Deal outlined possible options for the use of medical marijuana earlier this month. In a press conference, Deal said he is considering a state project to provide a scientific environment to conduct clinical trials to study the medicinal value of marijuana.


“While we as prevention people agree with the fact that it can be used medicinally, we also believe that you can use opiates medicinally but we aren’t advocating anybody to go smoke an opium pipe,” Daniel said. “You have to put it in a medicinal form.”


State representative Randy Nix said he believes Georgia will soon make provisions for medical marijuana treatments for certain types of seizures, especially uncontrollable childhood seizures.


“I would not be opposed to this with very tight controls and very limited applications,” Nix said in an email.


He added that he is opposed to any legislation to legalize marijuana for recreational use and does not expect it to make any headway in the Georgia General Assembly in the near future.

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