Kapenga: Dangers of legalizing marijuana

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By Sen. Chris Kapenga

Kids from the 1980s will likely remember a television public service campaign commonly known as, “This is your brain on drugs.” It featured a sizzling egg in a black, iron skillet. Then came the ominous voiceover asking, “Any questions?” Nope! Got it!

Today, many people are sending a much different message about the use of recreational drugs.

The former educator and current leader of our state has proudly announced his desire to legalize recreational marijuana in Wisconsin—with no mention of the serious consequences of such a move.

Some states have gone down this road, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for Wisconsin. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns, “The fact that it’s legal does not mean that it is safe.”

You’ve probably heard many of the positive arguments for recreational marijuana, but for some reason the studies and reports highlighting the negative effects are being pushed to the shadows.

Unfortunately, it seems that now few legislators want to have a conversation about safety. Gov. Tony Evers and his colleagues have been lured by the prospect of collecting $165 million in sales tax revenue from the sale of marijuana in Wisconsin. It’s true that sales have often boomed in states where the purchase and use of marijuana has become legal. But just a year after California legalized marijuana, even Gov. Gavin Newsom had to acknowledge that the illegal drug market was not only thriving, it was expanding.

From a heath perspective, the National Academy of Medicine has identified a significant correlation between marijuana and psychosis, schizophrenia, and other psychotic disorders. The risk for teenagers is even higher.

Some may point out that the evidence is mixed on whether usage by minors goes up. However, it is undeniably clear that once marijuana is fully legalized, the perception by kids radically changes. A 2016 Washington State Healthy Youth Survey, which included more than 230,000 students, found that 31 percent of 12th graders perceived marijuana as harmful in 2016 compared with 58 percent in 2000.

This is extremely concerning when we see the CDC reporting that “when marijuana users begin using as teenagers, the drug may reduce attention, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions. Marijuana’s effects on these abilities may last a long time or even be permanent. This means that someone who uses marijuana may not do as well in school and may have trouble remembering things.”

The results only get worse when mental health issues are combined with the use of marijuana, as stated in a recent investigation published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics.

When you factor these findings with a CDC warning that “about 1 in 10 marijuana users will become addicted” and that “for people who begin using before the age of 18, that number rises to 1 in 6,” making marijuana more accessible—for anyone—is the last thing we should do.

And there’s crime to consider. In Colorado, the crime rate increased 11 times faster than the nation since the legalization of marijuana, including a nearly 20 percent increase in violent crimes.

At the same time, again in Colorado, drugged driving went from killing roughly one person every 6.5 days to every 2.5 days, since legalization was passed. A similar increase happened in Washington state, where the number of traffic deaths due to marijuana-impaired drivers doubled the year after recreational marijuana was legalized.

Again, it’s convenient to focus exclusively on the promise of dollars flooding the state. But there are serious concerns that we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to.

An honest and forthright discussion on the negative and detrimental consequences to our communities and our citizens if marijuana use becomes legal is necessary. Because when we dig deeper into this issue, it’s clear that there’s compelling evidence that legalizing recreational use of marijuana isn’t a good move for Wisconsin.

Any questions?

Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) is president of the Wisconsin State Senate. He represents the 33rd Senate District, which covers most of central Waukesha County and Lake Country.

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