As reported by various state news outlets, even though a Virginia state crime commission study found decriminalization would prevent more than 10,000 arrests, a panel of Virginia state legislators has rejected a proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. This bill would have made marijuana possession of a half-ounce or less a civil offense subject to a simple ticket or fine.
Virginia in the short term is unlikely to follow other states such as Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state, and even Washington, D.C., in the decriminalization, much less the legalization, of marijuana.
Irrespective of the fact that approximately 33 percent of the United States population has tried marijuana, there have been no reported overdoses in the use of marijuana, nor have there been any reported violent or aggressive acts associated with the use of this drug. Moreover, there have been myriad studies that suggest a strong positive correlation in the use of marijuana in alleviating the symptoms of numerous medical and psychiatric conditions.
This is not to say that marijuana, which comes from the hemp plant Cannabis sativa, has no negative risks. Certainly, there are both physical and emotional effects from using marijuana. Physically, marijuana has an active ingredient called THC that makes people feel high. THC and other compounds in marijuana also can affect the way the body works.
Regardless of how cannabis gets into one’s system (i.e., inhaled or orally), it affects almost every organ in one’s body, and the nervous and immune systems. When an individual smokes “pot,” the body absorbs THC right away. (If a person eats a baked good, it may take much longer for one’s body to absorb THC, because it has to break down in the stomach before it enters the bloodstream). One notices changes in his or her body right after he or she uses the drug. The effects usually stop after 3 or 4 hours.
Smoking marijuana can increase one’s heart rate by as much as two times for up to 3 hours. It can also increase reddening of the eyes along with and dilated pupils, increased appetite, bleeding, lower blood pressure, and affect one’s blood sugar levels.
Although most people use marijuana because the high makes them feel happier, relaxed, or detached from reality, in others it can cause a distorted sense of time, random thinking, mild paranoia, residual anxiety and depressive features, along with short-term forgetfulness.
On the other hand, alcohol, which the Commonwealth of Virginia distributes six days a week, is the most deadly of drugs. Alcohol’s impact on one’s body starts from of the first sip. While an occasional glass of wine with dinner isn’t a cause for concern, the cumulative effects of drinking wine, beer, or spirits can take its toll. The short-term effects of alcohol use can include: slurred speech, drowsiness, vomiting, diarrhea, upset stomach, headaches, breathing difficulties, distorted vision and hearing, impaired social and legal judgment, decreased perception and coordination, unconsciousness, anemia (loss of red blood cells), possible coma, and blackouts (memory lapses, where the drinker cannot remember events that occurred while under the influence).
Long-term effects from alcohol include, but are not limited to, unintentional injuries such as vehicle crashes; falls; burns; drowning; intentional injuries from firearms; sexual assaults, domestic violence; increased work related injuries and loss of productivity; increased family problems and broken relationships; alcohol poisoning; high blood pressure, stroke, and other heart-related diseases; liver disease; neurological damage; sexual problems; Vitamin B1 deficiency, which can lead to a disorder characterized by amnesia, apathy and disorientation; ulcers; inflammation of stomach walls; malnutrition; and, possible cancer of the mouth and throat.
Therefore, because most public policy decisions are made based on the generation of state and local revenue, one can correctly assume that Virginia Legislators have chosen to not legalize marijuana and/or decriminalize the use of it because they have discerned that more revenue is made off of vilifying and criminalizing marijuana users.
Short-sighted Virginia legislators who justify the selling and use of one of the most lethal drugs, alcohol, but are unwilling to legalize, or at the very least decriminalize the use of, a fairly comparatively benign drug (marijuana), are the epitome disingenuousness.
I suggest a new, more accurate, state motto: Virginia is for hypocrites!
Maurice Fisher is a mental health therapist who lives in Roanoke, VA.