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Two weeks ago, we ran two articles about marijuana written by reporter Ron Eland.
“Teenage marijuana use increasing” appeared in the Friday, Dec. 6, edition and covered a presentation entitled “Marijuana Harmless? Think Again” hosted by Yavapai County’s substance abuse coalition.Managing EditorChristopher Fox GrahamAlso on our Front Page, “Legislator pushes for legalizing pot,” a story about the effort of Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego [D-District 16] to legalize marijuana use by adults over the age of 21 and taxing the sale much like alcohol. The law would impose certain restrictions about the amount of marijuana a person could grow or consume and ban smoking marijuana in public.
The inclusion of these seemingly opposing news stories was not accidental, but rather highlights the mixed message about the dangers or benefits of the drug. Opponents see marijuana as a gateway drug, while proponents say it is no more dangerous than alcohol or nicotine, both of which are arguably more addictive than marijuana. Rarely do these two sides sit down to debate each other.
Gallego’s proposed law follows on the heels of Washington and Colorado, both of which passed legalization laws last year. Colorado’s law went into effect after the ballots were ratified by the governor. Draft rules for Washington’s law are facing public comment but should permit use by the end of this month or next.
While Canada and countries in Europe and Central America have decriminalized marijuana consumption, on Dec. 9, Uruguay became the first country to legalize the use, cultivation and manufacture of marijuana from top to bottom and other countries in the Americas plan to follow suit.
The District of Columbia and 20 U.S. states have legalized the use of marijuana for qualified medical patients through various means, be it medical cards issued like driver’s licenses or a state-run database so patients can pick up their prescriptions from dispensaries.
Meanwhile, the drug still remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. Although U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has stated the U.S. Justice Department will no longer devote resources to marijuana enforcement, in states that have approved medical or recreational use of marijuana, dispensaries and retail distributors are routinely raided by federal law enforcement, sometimes with local assistance.
If the federal government wanted to keep the drug wholly illegal, federal officials should have acted immediately after California first decriminalized possession in 1996 or when Alaska, Oregon and Washington first legalized medical use in 1998. The feds did not and have since allowed marijuana various types of legality in different states.
Voters in Arizona and other states have decided that the potential benefits of marijuana for medical or recreational uses outweigh the potential dangers.
With the cat out of the bag, federal officials should allow the states to pursue a marijuana policy in line with what their voters decide. Local and state officials in Arizona should ask for a straight answer from the federal government about what will and won’t be allowed under federal drug laws. If marijuana is tentatively legal if states deem it so, federal law should reflect the changing landscape.
Some Verde Valley residents have legal access to marijuana provided by their neighbors and fellow voters. Whether that should go any further or stop there should also be left to voters. The harm or benefit of marijuana should be debated between the two sides, not argued in separate rooms — and the final decision should be made in the ballot box.

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