Ron Sasso

Medical marijuana may be on the ballot next year. Keep in mind that is the gateway to legalization of marijuana.

The potency of marijuana has radically changed over the past 30 years. Growers have worked the genetics to make it far more potent. For example, the THC content (the active ingredient in marijuana) has gone from 1-2 percent to over 15 percent. That makes for a much more potent and dangerous drug.

The argument for legalization is basically hinged on the idea that marijuana is relatively safe. After all, it’s being used for medical purposes, isn’t it? It must be safe, right? No.

Marijuana has more tar than cigarettes and is unfiltered. It will cause cancer. It also stays in the body longer than DDT (a pesticide that is a carcinogen).

Neurologically, marijuana does damage to the hippocampus (memory) and pre-frontal cortex (executive functioning/decision-making, problem-solving, attention, motivation, self-awareness). This creates a big concern when it comes to driving. A person will likely think he or she is fine to drive but is not.

Studies have shown that marijuana use causes long-term damage that leads to a reduction in IQ — on average, an eight-point reduction. That is a huge change in cognitive functioning. Is this what we want for our country? This could truly be the dumbing down of America.

Proponents of legalizing marijuana have noted that marijuana is “natural,” well, so is hemlock. There are many things that are natural that are not healthy. Also, marijuana is being treated with chemicals like most plants. The main difference is that there is no incentive to wash pesticides off.

One other interesting thing crossed my mind. This effort to legalize marijuana does not seem to be orchestrated by people who have lost eight points on their IQ and are lacking motivation. This is different. The following is a quote from a report commissioned by cigarette manufacturer Brown and Williamson (now merged with R.J. Reynolds) in the 1970s:

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“The use of marijuana … has important implications for the tobacco industry in terms of an alternative product line. (We) have the land to grow it, the machines to roll it and package it, the distribution to market it.”

My hunch is that big tobacco may behind the push for legalization. There’s a lot of money to be made by tobacco companies that are well-positioned and have been ready for this for over 30 years. Keep in mind that cigarettes were initially promoted as being healthy. Marijuana is following the same playbook.

Lastly, marijuana is a gateway drug that can lead to other more potent drugs. Marijuana works by stimulating dopamine in the brain — making a person feel good. It lowers inhibitions, making a person more likely to try another drug. Additionally, when the person stops using the drug they will often feel more depressed because of the lack of dopamine.

Marijuana should not be made legal but expect to see more money spent promoting legalization.

Ron Sasso is a freelance columnist who lives in Rapid City. He can be reached by emailing

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