Oklahomans cannot pay the steep price of recreational marijuana use

There is little sensible about the Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws initiative in State Question 820, set for a vote on March 7. If passed, it would legalize recreational marijuana.

As an Oklahoma high school teacher, I believe its passage would be terrible for the learning and health of Oklahoma’s adolescents. The state’s medical marijuana law approved in 2018 has had a negative impact on our young people; legalizing recreational marijuana would make a bad situation worse.

Marijuana users and profiteers will predictably deny negative impacts. But many scientific and medical organizations clearly disagree.

The International Academy on the Science and Impact of Cannabis states that harms from marijuana are significantly higher for youth and include addiction, psychosis, suicide and self harm.

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“Thousands of peer reviewed medical articles have been published on the harms of cannabis and marijuana. … It is our conclusion, based on review of the scientific evidence, that public health effects of commercial cannabis on Americans’ health are harmful. These growing negative impacts further strain health care and addiction treatment resources to an extent that far surpasses taxation revenues.”

In time, we will pay more to support the consequences of recreational marijuana. But, what about medical marijuana?

Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn noted a 4,000% increase in children infants to 5 overdosing on cannabis since medical marijuana’s arrival.

Previously, teachers saw few stoned students. Now many schools stink of marijuana. Educating glassy-eyed stoned students is impossible.

Why spend millions on education while allowing marijuana to derail our kids’ learning? How is it that leaders — from school district to the federal level — have done almost nothing to educate the public on this vital matter? Is it incompetence, inexcusable ignorance or cowardice?

Prior to medical marijuana, there were few panhandlers in Tulsa. Since it arrived, they have become ubiquitous. Our cities are looking more like Denver or Los Angeles.

Attorney General Gentner Drummond has made shutting down illegal marijuana grow sites one of his top three priorities.

Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics spokesman Mark Woodward says Oklahoma has become the leading source of illegal marijuana trafficking nationwide: “We have probably close to 2,000 farms that are under investigation for obtaining their license by fraud or moving product from that farm to the black market out of state.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt wants Oklahoma to be a Top 10 state. Well, we are No. 1 for illegal marijuana exports. And, plenty of illegal marijuana remains here for our young people to consume.

This should not be surprising. Colorado and West Coast marijuana-related data for law enforcement, drug abuse and education reveal the terrible impact on young people and others.

Given the negative outcomes of recreational marijuana in other states and Oklahoma’s unsuccessful regulation of medical marijuana, why would we add the greater challenge of recreational marijuana? And do so without a public education effort?

Of course, users and profiteers strongly support recreational marijuana and will show up to vote for SQ 820. The campaign raised almost $3 million to ensure passage. How much of those millions came from out of state?

There is no similarly funded opposition effort. The pro SQ 820 have clear-cut incentives, so it is unsurprising that they would have such strong funding. Their first postal mailings have gone out and, to date, remain without a response from the opposition.

And, why would Stitt call a special election for SQ 820 at an odd time of year when supporters will vote, while the majority remains oblivious?

Colorado and the West Coast show what is coming: even more stoned students, homeless drug addicts and drug-related crime. Politicians will gobble up marijuana tax revenue and downplay the greater taxpayer-financed and human costs that follow.

Do we want this? Think about the decades of effort required to overcome Big Tobacco and reduce tobacco’s horrific health impact.

Oklahoma ensures some public education for tobacco and vaping use. Why are we voting on recreational marijuana without a similar public education campaign and without strong, meaningful consequences and enforcement for those selling or giving marijuana to young people?

All voters who care about our young people and state need to get out the No vote on March 7.

Greg Barrack teaches ninth through 12th grade students at a Tulsa-area public school.

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