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Rocky Mountain High

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- Holly Kellner

The two states that legalized marijuana in 2014 are going head to head tomorrow in the Super Bowl. Here’s what one Colorado-born Filament writer has to say about what the drug can do for her home state, and for our country.

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One month ago, millions of people worldwide popped the champagne while residents of Colorado and Washington took out their bongs. It has been an interesting few years for the two states who made medical marijuana legal a few years ago and first put the option to legalize the drug on their ballots last year. The voters spoke, and when the clocks struck midnight this New Year’s Eve, marijuana was considered legal in Colorado and Washington. As a native Coloradan, I have been monitoring the process of legalization via tweets, Instagram pictures, and Facebook statuses from my home state friends. One friend posted a picture of “baby weed plants” that her mom was growing in her house, which became an instant classic among Instagrammers. Although the legalization of pot received more votes than Obama did in the state of Colorado, there remains a huge controversy about the legalization, taxation and regulation of the drug.

Heading the anti-marijuana campaign is the federal government. The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s website states, “The Administration steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana and other drugs because legalization would increase the availability of the use of illicit drugs, and pose significant health and safety risk to all Americans particularly young people.” The office also has a webpage providing facts about the drug, including the claims that it can have a negative effect on heart and respiratory functions, and that it increases the risk of schizophrenia in vulnerable individuals.

The website of the Obama Administration cites similar lists to back up their claim that weed should not be legal at all. Assertions include, “Marijuana legalization wont eliminate the black market for the drug” and “Scientific research shows us that increasing the availability of drugs can lead to increased use, and growth in the consequence of that use.”

On the other side, a number of proud Coloradans and Washingtonians stand at the front of a pro-Mary Jane campaign. A recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that low levels of pure marijuana use had no detrimental effect in lung function among study participants. In fact, exposure led to a mild, although not clinically significant, beneficial effect for those who smoked one joint per day in the study.

So, what are the potential beneficial effects of consuming or smoking reefer? For starters, it has helped people cope with debilitating conditions. In his autobiographical book, Mom’s Marijuana, Penn State College of Medicine professor Dan Shapiro writes about how his mother, who was not initially a supporter of the consumption and smoking of weed, began growing marijuana plants in her backyard to help her son cope with chemotherapy-induced nausea, upon learning that he was diagnosed with nodular Sclerosis Hodgkin’s disease. Burton Aldrich, a quadriplegic who is confined to a wheel chair, was featured in a television advertisement in New York because he uses marijuana to alleviate neuropathic pain and help his spasms. He claims that, if it weren’t for marijuana, he would be dead. For many individuals like Shapiro and Aldrich, marijuana helps decrease nausea and boost appetite, which is essential for patients who have difficulty keeping food down and maintaining nutrition levels. For some cancer and AIDS patients, other prescription drugs that are supposed to boost appetite simply don’t work, and so they turn to marijuana. Given that prescription options can be expensive, dangerous, narcotic and addictive, more and more people are turning to a greener kind of medicine to help their symptoms.

Bob Marley once said, “Herb is the healing of a nation, alcohol is the destruction,” which raises questions about the reasons that alcohol is legal in the United States and hash isn’t. Besides having the potential to wreak havoc upon the body’s systems (alcohol poisoning, anyone?), alcohol often leads to harmful decision-making, included but not limited to engaging in physical fights, drunk driving, and unprotected sexual encounters. Problematically, marijuana did lead to over 461,000 emergency room visits in the US in 2010. But in the same year, American emergency rooms saw 189,060 underage drinkers, 564,796 individuals admitted because they had combined alcohol with another drug, and 687,574 people who landed themselves in trouble using alcohol alone.

On the corporate side of things, the legalization of marijuana has triggered a boom in growth for Colorado’s economy. Specifically, there has been a huge increase in businesses that cater to the community that wants gourmet weed “edibles.” Love’s Oven is just one of the many new Colorado companies who have started manufacturing these goodies. Their bakery is run by two bubbly women, and the place seems like any other cupcake shop – except here, “baking” takes on a whole new meaning. The ladies started the business in 2009 for individuals possessing medicinal cards, but now there is an especially bright future ahead for this kind of business. In the first week that marijuana was legalized, Colorado raked in over five million dollars in taxed and regulated sales. And on January first, when medicinal shops were opened to people not in possession of a medical card, more than half of customers presented out-of-state ID’s: proof that legalization is helping Colorado’s tourism industry.

What does all of this mean for everyone else in the US? For one thing, green might be showing up on more state ballots after two huge successes this past month in what have been called “experimental” states. The bottom line is that Americans enjoy using marijuana: In 2011, more than 18 million Americans reported using it within the last month.

But before new green moves are made, there need to be more advances in research so that we can better understand what we’re dealing with. A good deal of our population is miseducated about marijuana, thanks largely to the social taboos that surround it, and the stigma attached to stereotypes like the “stoner.” There should also be continued open discussions among students, teachers, teens and parents. At this rate, next New Year’s Eve will probably see more Americans ditching champagne in favor of joints.

Holly KellnerRocky Mountain High

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