Todd Buenker: State shouldn’t have legalized recreational marijuana

Todd BuenkerDaily News

In a recent editorial concerning legalized recreational marijuana ("Our View: Let’s All Ponder Pot Regulations," Aug. 15, 2019) the opinion of the Daily News editorial board read, “We have no more problem with the legalization of the recreational — and responsible — use of marijuana than we do with the legal consumption of alcohol…”

As a member of that board, I concur — to a point.

However, it should be noted that while alcohol is carefully regulated by local ordinances and state law, the idea of legalized cannabis can’t be considered on the same parallel. I personally have a bit more problem legalizing it than I would have alcohol.

It’s my opinion this state shouldn’t have legalized alcohol’s “leafy cousin” until it had answers for the questions being pondered by the Effingham County Board, et al, such as: What happens when an employee or applicant tests positive for it? What are the employers' legal rights? What are the rights of the potential hire/employee? And there are other concerns. The fact remains that marijuana in recent times was considered a “gateway” drug. What happened to that theory? Did it just cease to be now that states are legalizing it? Most importantly, it should be recognized that the federal government still considers pot to be an illegal drug.

"Some studies indicate long-term cannabis users reported higher levels of negative health outcomes, other research has also linked cannabis use to poor health." (National Institutes on Drug Abuse). According to the Institutes … "because marijuana impairs short-term memory and judgment and distorts perception, it can impair performance in school or at work and make it dangerous to drive. It also affects brain systems that are still maturing through young adulthood, so regular use by teens may have negative and long-lasting effects on their cognitive development, putting them at a competitive disadvantage and possibly interfering with their well-being in other ways. Also, contrary to popular belief, marijuana can be addictive, and its use during adolescence may make other forms of problem use or addiction more likely."

Everyone knows the pot smoking, lethargic, stoned out-of-this-world guy in the college dorm who couldn’t function. Now we’ve made it legal for him to do so, then go operate heavy machinery — to a point. There will always be the possibility of impaired driving as long as there are mood-altering substances. Even if a level of legally acceptable influence is set, it will be illegal across state lines — then what?

As for possession, I’m told law enforcement is starting to look the other way; figuratively or perhaps literally “throwing the stuff in the ditch” when they come across it in a traffic stop. The law indicates people over the age of 21 will be able to possess up to 30 grams of the cannabis flower. It sounds as though we may need to be retrofitting patrol cars with ounce scales. (OK grams — there goes government once more trying to shove that metric system down our throats.)

Moreover, what happened to following the rules and doing what you’re supposed to? How are parents supposed to tell their college kids to stay off the stuff? The argument “would you jump off a cliff with everyone else” no longer holds water. But, Dad — it’s legal. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it right. I can think of several laws placed in that category. I think my kids know right from wrong (at least within the moral framework we’ve set up in our family) but government blurs that line more all the time — and this legalized marijuana stunt is another example.

Not much can be done, as the Thursday opinion column rightly pointed out. But in my opinion, we must do all we legally can to regulate the location of the sale of it — restrict where sellers and growers can be located, establish zones where it can be sold and establish hours when it can be sold — and enforce that strictly; and additionally step up patrols in those areas. I suspect with legal weed sales will come “other” activities of a seedy nature.

I am a person who has great disdain for any form of taxation. I’ll leave the state to handle that end of it. Like it does with any budding business, Illinois will manage to collect its tax — no question there. That’s why Pritzker and his cronies pushed to legalize recreational marijuana in the first place.

As a resident (who knows for how much longer) of the state recently ranked 50th in fiscal stability, I think it’s high time we expect more from our leadership. Legalizing pot so it can be taxed will not put the state back on a firm foundation — not fiscally and certainly not a moral one. When the smoke clears, I’d venture to guess that potholes are more of an important issue than pot to most Illinoisans.

Todd Buenker is the EDN's Director of Reader Services and a member of the editorial board. He can be reached at todd.buenker@effinghamdailynews.com

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