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Marijuana made inroads in 2 states Nov. 4

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Marijuana was embraced in two states in Nov. 4’s balloting.

In Massachusetts, voters approved a ballot initiative for a $100 civil fine for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to replace criminal penalties.

In Michigan, voters approved the use of marijuana for medical conditions, making it the 13th state in the nation to open a door for marijuana via the disputed medicinal rationale.

Barrett Duke, vice president of public policy and research for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement to Baptist Press Nov. 5:

“The continued push to relax marijuana laws is certain to be disastrous for many thousands of our fellow citizens. Decriminalization of marijuana sends the wrong message to our young people, especially. Rather than helping communicate the dire dangers associated with drug abuse, this latest round of votes to relax restrictions on its use will cause young people to think more favorably about marijuana use, which will certainly result in more young people experimenting with the drug and ultimately sinking into the despair of drug addiction.

“Everyone whose lives have been deeply impacted by the destructive power of marijuana and the life of drug dependency to which it too often leads understands just how dangerous this drug is,” Duke continued. “It is tragic that supposed adults in this country are so oblivious to the obvious and are so willing to create an environment that will encourage more of our young people to engage in a behavior that is already destroying millions of lives. Our nation is already struggling with a drug abuse problem. Relaxing laws against marijuana will only make things worse. Adults should know better.”

The dangers Duke cited have been reported in numerous studies, including a finding that marijuana smoking may have a greater potential than tobacco smoking as a cause of lung cancer, and smoking just one marijuana joint is as harmful to the body as smoking 20 cigarettes, according to a study by researchers in New Zealand released in the February issue of the European Respiratory Journal.

Marijuana cigarettes tend to be smoked without filters and to a smaller butt size, the study said, and marijuana smokers inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer. The higher concentrations of smoke inhaled contain up to twice the concentration of cancer-causing hydrocarbons, the researchers reported.

The new Massachusetts marijuana law, as described by The Boston Globe, “means someone found carrying dozens of joints will no longer be reported to the state’s criminal history board.” According to the pro-marijuana Marijuana Policy Project, the $100 fine “could be paid through the mail without lawyers or court appearances, just like a speeding ticket.” Violators under the age of 18, according to the measure, would be required to complete a “drug awareness program” and community service, The Globe reported.

Voters approved the marijuana initiative, called Question 2 on the ballot, by a 65-35 percent margin, with about 90 percent of the precincts reporting, The Globe reported Nov. 5.

The Massachusetts legislature still can “amend or repeal the new law, as they have done with prior initiatives passed by the voters,” The Globe reported, citing a spokesperson for the state’s attorney general, Martha Coakley.

In Michigan, medical marijuana proponents claimed, as the Detroit News put it, that “it would help as many as 50,000 residents ease the pain of cancer, Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS and other illnesses.” The paper noted that Proposition 1, as it was titled, “drew widespread opposition from law enforcement, business groups and health organizations.”

In Fayetteville, Ark., another nod for marijuana was approved Nov. 4 by a 87-13 percent margin in favor of an ordinance stipulating that marijuana violations should be the lowest priority for the city’s police officers.

However, the city’s police chief, Greg Tabor, told the Northwest Arkansas Times that the ordinance won’t have much of an effect, noting that state laws establish marijuana violations, not the city’s ordinances.

“Misdemeanor marijuana possession is already low priority for us,” Tabor also told the paper. “I’m not saying we don’t arrest people for it. It’s a Class A misdemeanor and by law, you have to be ticketed and finger-printed for it, which means you’ll have to go to jail.”

The leader of the local pro-marijuana campaign, Ryan Denham of “Sensible Fayetteville,” told the paper that the vote “builds public support for future efforts…. We also expect to see the number of arrests decrease for adult marijuana possession.”

The U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, citing the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), noted that the number of individuals who used marijuana one or more times in 2007 was approximately 25.1 million, or 10.1 percent of the population age 12 or older, while the number who said they smoked marijuana during the previous month was 14.4 million, or 5.8 percent of the same population.

“Among 12-17 year olds surveyed as part of the 2007 NSDUH, 6.7% reported past month marijuana use,” the federal office reported. “In 2007, there were 2.1 million persons who had used marijuana for the first time within the past 12 months; this averages to approximately 6,000 initiates per day.”
Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.