Dangers of marijuana reflected in vote

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Columbia, Mo., residents who care about potential drug abuse, especially by that city's children, should be pleased that they and their like-minded peers went to the polls last week.

They defeated a proposal that practically would have legalized marijuana.

The Daily Tribune in Columbia wrote that the issue went down by a "wide margin," but some might be surprised at the number of supporters of the measure to allow the use and possession of marijuana: 7,629 voters who went to the polls said yes, while 10,461 voters said no, or 42 percent to 58 percent.

Supporters said the proposed ordinance would decriminalize the use of marijuana and legalize it for medical purposes. The penalty reduction would have been significant, dropping from up to a $1,000 fine and one year in jail for possessing less than 35 grams to no jail time and $25 for the first offense.

The location of the largest University of Missouri campus has given Columbia the reputation of being a liberal hotbed in a socially and politically conservative state.

But obviously this was an issue that a majority of voters could agree on.

Much of the support for the marijuana measure came from university students. An MU law student wrote it. Under the proposition, cases would have been handled in municipal court instead of state court, so anyone caught would have been protected from criminal prosecution and accompanying fallout, including the possible loss of federal financial aid for students.

In other words, had the measure passed, a citation for speeding potentially could have carried more financial and personal repercussions than a citation for possession of marijuana.

But marijuana simply isn't a rite of passage to be expected during the college years. At a minimum, it leads to poor judgment, bad decision making and damage to the lungs.

At its worst, marijuana can be a gateway to other drugs. A study released earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association supported the gateway theory, long held by law enforcement officers and concerned parents.

Interestingly, the study was compiled at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, just a couple hours from Columbia. Nearly half of the young marijuana users in the study went on to use harder drugs. Researchers suggested the relatively low risk of prosecution due to marijuana use might make those who partake more bold in trying cocaine or other stimulants.

And if the Columbia proposition had passed, the message to that city's young people would have been clear: It's OK to use.

Supporters of the Columbia proposition have proclaimed a minor victory in getting their message out. They've vowed to continue the fight through other issues and in other places. Voters faced with these issues should put the same consideration into them as the voters in Columbia did.

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