Prop One: Up in smoke?

Many students came to listen to the debate discussing the topic of Marijuana legalization in the Multi Purpose room of the library on September 26th, 2018.  GVL / Sheila Babbitt

Many students came to listen to the debate discussing the topic of Marijuana legalization in the Multi Purpose room of the library on September 26th, 2018.  GVL / Sheila Babbitt

Jenny Adkins

On Wednesday, Sept. 26, Grand Valley State University hosted another Democracy 101 discussion, this time centered on legalizing and decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana. While voting trends have indicated that the proposal is likely to pass, anti-legalization groups are still working to prevent the proposal from passing. 

General elections are coming up on Nov. 6 and the vote for legalizing recreational marijuana, known as Proposal One, will come to ballot. The Democracy 101 discussion gave students, faculty and members of the community a chance to consider facts, perceptions and data while examining the authorization process of this issue.

Jina Lee, professor in GVSU’s criminal justice department, discusses the pros and cons of this substance. 

“There will be a chance for law enforcement to save hundreds of dollars,” Lee said. “However, there will be an increase in the risk of younger kids using this substance, which could result in more traffic-related accidents.” 

States like Colorado have seen a three percent increase in accidents, and although this is a small number in the scheme of things, innocent people still ended up injured due to marijuana intoxication. 

In order to understand the foundation of this proposal, the first step is to learn the difference between decriminalization and legalization. People often mistake the difference between the two and use both terms interchangeably. 

To define, decriminalization is lessening criminal penalties that correlates with marijuana possession, despite the possibility of the law stating the selling and manufacturing of the drug is illegal. This goes hand-in-hand with the production and sale of marijuana in that it remains unregulated by the state. Individuals caught using the drug will face civil fines as opposed to civil charges. Furthermore, legalization is simply the abolishing of laws banning possession or usage of marijuana. This allows for the government of the state to regulate and tax marijuana use and sales. 

In addition, Proposal One will consist of a numerous amount of changes if passed on Nov. 6. Individuals will have the ability to grow up to 12 plants within their residence, there will be a sales tax of 10 percent on the substance and there will be revenue toward the education system and roads and violations will be classified as civil infractions for the benefit of younger generations. 

Human rights advocate Dana Knight noted that although marijuana isn’t for her, she’d find comfort in knowing that it is easily available to the public.  

“I’ve never smoked weed in my life, but I want weed to be there for me when I need it,” Knight said. “I have (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) after discovering my mother after she passed, and when it’s necessary, I want it to be there for other people who need it for medical purposes. I’m also advocating for the high numbers of black people who are incarcerated for weed-related crimes and for their charges to be eradicated.” 

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan, 3.3 percent of African-Americans are more likely than Caucasians to be incarcerated for weed-related crimes. 

Tami Vandenberg, human rights activist, is a member of the movement known as MILegalize, an anti-prohibition organization established in 2015. The movement’s purpose is to support the legalization of marijuana within the state of Michigan. 

“I’ve been a drug policy reformer for years,” Vandenberg said. “When I saw how weed crimes were affecting people’s lives, I knew I had to get involved. There are no positives coming out of prohibition of marijuana and it doesn’t stop people from smoking. States who have legalized have not seen a massive increase in use, and I don’t see one coming for us either.”

Vandenberg went on to say that criminalization is the most dangerous part about using weed. 

“The biggest substance death in America is from tobacco and that’s legal; alcohol is next and that’s legal. What are the laws based on? If it’s based on harm and science, then we’d be outlawing cigarettes and liquor too,” Vandenberg said.

Scott Greenlee was a guest speaker at the panel discussion and he touches on the importance of research. Greenlee is part of the Healthy and Productive Michigan committee who examines and researches the economic, health and safety concerns this particular substance can cause.

“If we go down this road, it will impact future generations in several ways,” Greenly said. “Media reports are exaggerated… It’s important to recognize this ballot measure has nothing to do with medical marijuana. My own mother died of cancer and those months were awful; I wouldn’t have cared what she was using if it helped. No matter how you vote on this, it won’t affect medical marijuana at all. Where do we draw the line? It’s a case of give an inch, take a mile.” 

Moreover, Glenn Valdez, a professor of psychology at GVSU who specializes in drug addiction, studies how the components of this drug do in fact affect health, behavior and cognitive ability. The big question at hand: does the research match the perception?

“It’s not exactly ‘harmless’ but research stands in between,” Valdez said. “You can use marijuana responsibly as an adult. There are numbers that show various effects, but I encourage you to dig deeper into the research—the methodology of these studies and illustrate how the research could be improved.”

Research on marijuana shows that it can help significantly with pain relief and cell restoration, meanwhile harmful substances like alcohol and cigarettes are legal for adults to use. Valdez declares that people who start using weed as adults won’t see a change in function, but younger users have more issues with cognitive effects later in life, and studies show drops in IQ in younger students. 

“If the [proposal] does pass, then we should place more emphasis on drug education,” Valdez said.

Regardless of stance, students can give their input on this and other proposals in the general election. If you haven’t registered to vote yet, it’s not too late. Democracy 101 will host a workshop for first-time voters on Wednesday, Oct. 10 for students who hope to learn more about the political process.