The Maryland General Assembly yesterday held an extensive set of hearings on a variety of bills dealing with marijuana. The bills varied from outright legalization to various decriminalization options. Much of the debate was predictable, but a few changes to the script did appear.
Law enforcement and prosecutors from around the state rallied in Annapolis to testify against legalization and many of the reform efforts. This overwhelmed the couple of retired law enforcement officers who legalization advocates have been touting as representative of the law enforcement community's willingness to surrender their efforts at drug enforcement. In perhaps an effort to rebut this, WBAL interviewed the assistant director of Maryland NORML who claimed that these officers were only testifying to protect their own jobs.
Harford Conty's State's Attorney Joe Cassilly supported a wait and see attitude and called the information cited by supporters "anecdotal evidence by a bunch of pot heads." He was right to do so. While marijuana enthusiasts see the Colorado experiment as an unadulterated success, they ignore some of the negative consequences already appearing, such as increased incidents of marijuana in schools.
Another law enforcement officer testifying yesterday noted that the efforts at legalization send a "horrible message." The message being sent is that marijuana is harmless. The weight of medical evidence contradicts this, however, and has lead the American Medical Association to reaffirm its official position that "cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health concern, [and that] sale and possession of marijuana should not be legalized..."
Sadly the false message of marijuana's harmlessness is getting through, especially to young people particularly vulnerable to marijuana's negative effects. A recent University of Michigan survey which found that 60 percent of high school seniors believe that marijuana use is harmless. Additionally, despite Sen. Bobby Zirkin's suggestion that there is no evidence of increased use among young people as a result of decriminalization efforts, the National Institutes of Health have found that marijuana is the only drug seeing a trend of increased usage by middle and high school age kids.
Of course, Senator Zirkin is quick to claim there is no evidence. In a debate before session between the two of us, the good senator insisted that there was no evidence to support my claim that teen use of marijuana increased in Canada after efforts at decriminalization. Then I shared the results of a UN study which stated:
"Teenagers in Canada use cannabis more than any other developed country, according to a new study released by UNICEF. The report released last week shows that 28 percent of 15-year-olds admitted to having used cannabis in the past year. The figure comes from a World Health Organization (WHO) study conducted in 2009, which surveyed teenagers across 29 developed nations, including more than 15,000 in Canada."
No response from the good senator.
It appears that despite the efforts of drug legalization supporters, no meaningful marijuana legalization or decriminalization bills will become law this year. Even Senate President Mike Miller, who previously seemed open to the concept, now says it should be years before any such legislation is passed.
By then, of course, we will have more evidence of the negative consequences of legalization from Colorado and Washington. While this will likely not end the debate, it will counter the unbridled enthusiasm of drug legalization advocates.
--Greg Kline is a co-founder and contributing editor for Red Maryland, which has strived to be the premier blog and radio network of conservative and Republican politics and ideas in the free state since 2007. A Maryland attorney, Greg was part of the legal team that defeated the General Assembly's effort to fire the Public Service Commission in 2006. He is a former Republican candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates and for chairman of the Maryland Republican Party. His Red Maryland posts appear here regularly.