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What They Think: Lawmakers, don’t jump on pot escalator

In October, a Gallup Poll showed that more Americans than ever support legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Sixty-four percent of Americans are now in favor, the poll showed.

Despite federal regulation, numerous states have moved to legalize pot – not just for medical use but for recreational use, too. Even conservatives are moving in the direction of legalization. We suppose it’s inevitable, as traditional and conservative notions go up in smoke – pun intended – and the drug becomes more mainstream thanks to its debatable status as a legitimate medical prescription.

California is the latest to open the marijuana floodgates. Voters in that state last year chose to legalize it, and it officially became legal the first day of 2018. Naturally, consumers rushed to take advantage.

Other states to legalize marijuana include Maine, Massachusetts, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Colorado.

Medical marijuana has been legalized in many other states, including North Dakota and Minnesota. Most states in the Southeast and a band of states in the center of the nation – including South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas – do not legally allow marijuana for any reason.

Here at the Herald, we’ve only recently (and grudgingly) come around to accepting the legalization of medical marijuana, and we don’t think the next steps are automatic. They’re not on an escalator, in other words. We aren’t in favor of legalized recreational use, and we hope North Dakota and Minnesota both strongly consider the issue before choosing to climb to the next level.

We believe marijuana is a gateway drug. Robert L. DuPont, president of the Institute for Behavior and Health, in 2016 wrote in the New York Times that “there is ample evidence that early initiation of drug use primes the brain for enhanced later responses to other drugs.” He believes establishing marijuana as a legal drug will increase drug abuse, including the expanding opioid epidemic.

Our nation is already in a drug crisis. Encouraging the legal use of marijuana can’t possibly help.

We fear it will increase impaired driving on our roads. The Denver Post last year noted the number of Colorado drivers involved in fatal crashes and who tested positive for marijuana rose sharply each year since 2013. The Post reported that police and safety advocates say the number of drivers testing positive for marijuana is rising too quickly to ignore.

“Nobody understands it and people are dying,” Greenwood Village Police Chief John Jackson told the Post. “That’s a huge public safety problem.”

The number of marijuana-impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado between 2013 and 2016 rose 145 percent.

And recreational marijuana use is against federal law. It’s difficult for us to reconcile the obvious chasm that has emerged between a federal government that says it’s illegal and states that are approving it anyway. We realize it’s the voters’ will in those states, but it doesn’t make it right.

Although we shrug and figure legalization nationwide probably will, eventually, be a foregone conclusion, we don’t agree with it. In fact, we hope it doesn’t happen.

In the meantime, it’s our hope that lawmakers are deliberate and consider growing statistical evidence before succumbing to legalization efforts in the Dakotas and Minnesota.