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Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015

Local officials snuff legalized marijuana

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Following ballot initiatives in some parts of the country this fall, local authorities and experts agree that any form of legalization or decriminalization of narcotics is a bad idea.

Mary Sloan, prevention supervisor for Northwest Iowa Drug and Alcohol Treatment Unit, had one word to describe the proposals - wrong.

"It normalizes use - it gives society a message that if it's legal then it's normal for people to use," she said. "And we do know that marijuana is addictive. People talk about hard drugs and soft drugs - it is a drug.

"It can cause problems for people physically as well as all the areas that drugs can cause problems with - family, schools," she added. "That's why we make policy around these drugs, because they do cause problems for people."

As far as medicinal purposes, Sloan said marijuana if legalized strictly for that purpose would need to be treated as any other prescription medicine by sharply controlling quantity and frequency of dosages.

Further study to find what part of marijuana is beneficial is important, too.

"Let's use that component because then we can measure the quantity and the frequency and be more specific with dosages," she said.

Efforts to legalize marijuana do not sit well with local law enforcement either.

"We would not support that," Storm Lake Public Safety Director Mark Prosser said of legalization proposals.

"As a government and as a country we have done a very poor job in the legislating, control and enforcement of alcohol and tobacco laws historically," he said. "To bring mind-altering drugs that are deeply interconnected with organized crime and street gang violence onto a public market would be a disaster."

Proponents of the legalization argue that the "war on drugs" has failed to eradicate problems, that those who need treatment for addiction instead face jail time that is expensive to society and does not rehabilitate them, and that marijuana as a drug could be compared to other legal addictive substances such as alcohol, tobacco and caffeine

Countries where small amounts of marijuana or other drugs are legal face social service costs seven to eight times higher than those in the United States, Prosser responds.

"That includes many more clinics, treatment centers, social service employees and law enforcement because of the social problems created through the legalization process," he said.

There are higher addiction rates and both higher inpatient and outpatient treatment, he said.

However, treatment should be an option for addicted individuals in the United States.

"Those individuals not involved in sales, but are addicted to drugs I view more as an illness," he said.

Prison should be the answer for those who deal drugs, he said.

"Those individuals who choose to sell and deal drugs are clearly criminals," Prosser said.

Prevention continues to play a role in creating a healthy community, Sloan said. At NWIADTU, she focuses on preventing problems from even starting in the first place - that involves helping people understand why marijuana and other drugs are harmful, she said.

"We don't want this to become a normal pattern of use, that it's okay to use," she said. "It is a drug like other drugs. We need to be aware of the risks and protect what we value."

NWIADTU works with all audiences in its prevention work, focusing on empowering other people to become "effective prevention people," Sloan said.

NWIADTU believes substance abuse prevention is essential for healthy communities.

"We want to help people in our area value prevention and to get the message out that every Iowan is a prevention partner," Sloan said. "Prevention is not only about individuals - it's about families, it's about communities."

NWIADTU works with people to look at low-risk choices when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

"What we're trying to do is create a community norm around making low-risk choices," she said. "The only low-risk choice when it comes to illegal drugs is abstinence."

Low-risk choices also need to be considered when it comes to alcohol, tobacco, and both over-the-counter and prescription medicines.

"That's why prescription drugs have directions," she said.

At Christmas time, NWIADTU tells people to "celebrate with care," and encourages workplaces suggestions on environmental prevention strategies, such as not providing alcohol for free at a Christmas party and ensuring other non-alcoholic beverages are also available.

Legalization is not something that should happen in the U.S. because marijuana is legal elsewhere in the world, she said.

"It comes back to protecting what we value - do we value the health of a community, do we value that crime is low?" Sloan asked.

Prosser said he has "faith that the good people of Iowa see that it is a mistake for the heartland."

In Storm Lake, the police department has successful support for its prevention efforts.

"We've had unprecedented support for both drug enforcement and drug education," he said.

But it's never-ending job.

"Ironically, last Thursday as we were completing the final D.A.R.E. graduation, simultaneously we were dealing with an active meth lab in the downtown," Prosser said. "It's a never-ending problem."

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