Students on legalization of recreational marijuana

"Weed is something that is natural from the Earth. You don’t have to chemically modify it,” a six-year long weed smoker and UT student said. “You can literally grow it, pick it, dry it and smoke it and it’ll do exactly what it does.”


Another user added that legalization is every marijuana user’s goal.


“Once it gets legalized, a lot of government programs can start studying it. That’s the number one problem. Not a lot of studies are done on it.”


 A third user echoed similar concerns, that legalization of recreational marijuana allows individuals “to regulate what people put in their own body under their own consent.” 


 However, making cannabis legal recreationally isn’t a goal every UT student shares.


“I personally don’t think it’s smart to have it recreationally used,” College Republicans Chair Shane Logan said. “I do not think it’s a gateway drug. There are positives and negatives.” 


Making it available recreationally creates a gray area, where governments are unable to legally monitor how much weed users are consuming each week, he added.


“I think I speak for the club and for myself when I say I’m all for medicinal marijuana and if people were to go to recreational marijuana that should be left up to the states.”


While he recognizes the benefits in revenue local municipalities and state governments would generate, he doesn’t think it’s a good national public policy, Logan said.


Sharing a similar opinion, Muslim Student Association President Adil Hasan voiced his concerns.


“In Islam, obviously anything that affects your brain activity or neuroplasticity is haram, or against our religion,” Hasan said. “Anything that can impair you is not okay.”


Even juuling perpetuates the issue, he added. “That feeling that you even need something else is looked down upon.”


“Often, weed isn’t something that is discussed within the Muslim community,” Hasan said. “While making it legal recreationally could minimize that issue, it would also increase the usage among younger individuals and the flow within the community.”


“It’s something we need to talk to a bunch of kids about because there are plenty of Muslims who smoke weed, and they just don’t know anything about it, like the implications it could have might benefit them in some manner.”


Especially users who haven’t done their research on the strain of weed they’re smoking can have a detrimental impact on their health, he said.  


“You’re going to get messed up. If they’re educated enough and they know what they’re doing to themselves, then so be it; that’s their choice.”


Legalizing it would push parents to have that discussion with their children about marijuana usage being okay in certain households as opposed to theirs, he said.


“A lot of people would be uncomfortable with that, but you’ve got to make everybody comfortable with that in the sense that we have to be able to talk about it and figure it out together,” Hasan said.


According to UT health education professor Tavis Glassman, increasing accessibility of marijuana by making it legal for recreational purposes would also increase its use.  


“The easier a drug is to get, the more likely people are to do it,” Glassman said.


The things he’s most concerned about are the drug’s effects on users’ memory, ability to learn new information and focus overall.


“Especially if you already have an attention deficit order,” he said. “So, you’re taking Ritalin and you’re also using marijuana. Those are canceling each other out.”


From a wellness perspective, people with anxiety need to address their anxiety in other ways, he added.


“You might get some release from your anxiety, but then it’s temporary and your body builds a tolerance on it and when you don’t have the marijuana, you feel even more anxious, so it disrupts your homeostasis.” 


By taking any type of drugs, users disrupt their chemical balance which can lead to issues like amotivational syndrome, in which individuals have a lack of desire to complete tasks, Glassman said.


 According to an article by Dr. Brian Johnson, the director of the addiction psychiatry fellowship at SUNY Upstate Medical University, amotivational syndrome is a phenomenon long-term marijuana users suffer from. It results in apathy and laziness.


“Additionally, smoking marijuana regularly can put users at risk for bronchitis due to the carcinogens found within the leaf,” Glassman said. “In fact, the medical marijuana that Ohio has legalized, you don’t smoke it. It has to be vaped.”


While marijuana isn’t a gateway drug, he added that there are two types of users, ones who are “marijuana loyalists,” who love the drug so much that it’s a part of their identity and other users, who try marijuana out of curiosity and continue to experiment with other drugs.


“What we can see from the broad body of research so far is that at the very least, it does no harm and if it does any harm, it’s very minimal compared to drugs that we tolerate in society any way,” College Democrats President Alex Seifert said.


His biggest concern is with the inequities in how marijuana laws target communities of color, he said.


While social science reveals that marijuana users aren’t common to any specific race, “if you look at who gets arrested for it, there’s a huge racial


discrepancy that has to do with broader issues of communities of color being over enforced and whiter and wealthier communities being under enforced in terms of crime,” Seifert said.


Adding to this issue is the racist history behind marijuana legalization, he added.


“It was a Nixon staffer who came out directly after Nixon resigned…One of the reasons they made marijuana so heavily criminalized was that they were trying to disempower people who were in the anti-war movement and African Americans. It started out a very racist ideology and it was just meant to sort of quash any opposition.”


According to the Drug Policy Alliance, 46.9 percent of individuals arrested for drug law violations include blacks and Latinos, despite making up 31.5 percent of the U.S. population. 


While Logan agrees that statistics prove drug-related arrests often target communities of color, he added, “I think that’s a shame because I think it’s completely biased when it comes to reporting crimes,” he said.


Referencing President Donald Trump’s signing of the First Step Act — a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill focused on reducing recidivism and refining harsh penalties — Logan said this bill would target people who have 20-plus year offenses for carrying a small amount of pot.


“I didn’t agree with everything that was in [the First Step Act bill], but I think it helped target sort of that narrative of minorities, of blacks and Hispanics, people being locked up for a bit of pot, which I think is ridiculous,” he said.


Seifert, who said decriminalization is a step in the right direction, would like to see the drug legalized for recreational purposes as well. 


“Legalization would allow for broader tax revenue for the state which is a good thing,” he said. “We’re underfunding a lot of our institutions. We need a stronger tax base and if we can regulate and tax marijuana, that one, makes it safer, keeps it from being laced with other things and two, provides more revenue for the state.”


 As the debate on recreational marijuana legalization continues, users continue to experiment with the drug.  

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