By BISHOP EDWARD BURNS
A BISHOP’S PERSPECTIVE in the Juneau Empire, Oct. 12, 2014

This November there are several initiatives on the general election ballot for voters to decide on. It is important that all of us as citizens to carefully and thoughtfully cast our votes on issues that will affect the greater good. Here are my thoughts for your consideration on Ballot Measure 2, which seeks to legalize, commercialize, advertise and industrialize marijuana and concentrated marijuana products in our state.

If passed by the voters, marijuana production, sale and use would taxed and regulated. Marijuana would be legal for persons 21 years of age or older. The bill would allow a person to possess, use, show, buy, transport or grow set amounts of marijuana, with the growing subject to certain restrictions.
Additionally, people 21 years of age or older would be allowed to possess, use, show, buy or transport marijuana accessories or make marijuana accessories and to distribute or sell them to persons who are 21 years of age or older. (Marijuana accessories are products individuals use to grow or consume marijuana).
Marijuana legalization is a complex question that requires addressing both the detrimental effects of marijuana — especially concentrated forms of the drug — and the financial and social costs prohibiting its use and prosecuting and incarcerating marijuana users, growers and sellers.

A marijuana leaf is displayed in 2012 at the Canna Pi medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle. Catholic health care ethicists say medical marijuana has potential merits and pitfalls but political and medical considerations are not being consistently managed from state to state as legalization spreads. (CNS photo/Anthony Bolante, Reuters)
A marijuana leaf is displayed in 2012 at the Canna Pi medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle. Catholic health care ethicists say medical marijuana has potential merits and pitfalls but political and medical considerations are not being consistently managed from state to state as legalization spreads. (CNS photo/Anthony Bolante, Reuters)

Many scientific studies have been done related to the use of marijuana. Marijuana use affects all segments of our society. Research shows that in chronic users, marijuana’s adverse impact on learning and memory persists after the immediate effects of the drug wear off; when marijuana use begins in adolescence, the effects may persist for many years. Research from different areas is converging on the fact that regular marijuana use by young people can have long-lasting negative impacts on the structure and function of their brains.

Marijuana users have abnormal brain structure and poor memory. Northwestern University scientists found marijuana use causes brain abnormalities that resemble those found in people with schizophrenia. Further, the findings suggested youths are particularly at risk as their brains are at a critical developmental stage.

Another Northwestern study found that young adults who used marijuana only recreationally showed significant abnormalities in two key brain regions important in emotion and motivation. The degree of those alterations was directly related to how much marijuana the subjects used.
Recognizing that the state of Alaska has the worst statistics regarding chemical dependency, domestic violence and suicide, I fail to see the necessity of passing a ballot measure that would legalize a mind-altering drug.

Workers who smoke marijuana are more likely to experience increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims and job turnover. Chronic use has been associated with an array of psychological effects including depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and personality disturbances.
Marijuana use can compromise judgment, which can lead to risky behaviors with negative consequences. It can seriously affect a person’s sense of time and coordination, raising the risk of injury or death from car crashes or other accidents. These effects can last up to 24 hours after marijuana use.
Beyond the reported effects of marijuana on brain development, cognition and psychological health, I’m concerned that the language of this ballot initiative appears to remove local control of this intoxicant.
Alaska law permits localities to vote on being either a “wet, dry or damp” community. The initiative would legalize marijuana use, possession and sale throughout the state and does not appear to include options for local control. Based on current research, Elders in our rural villages believe passage of this initiative would only add to the many challenges adults and young people already face in their communities with intoxicants.

Many advocates for legalization claim marijuana is a safer than smoking or drinking. As a pastor I have witnessed the effects on individuals and families from the abuse of both drugs and alcohol.
Neither are healthy life choices.

However, many adults who consume alcohol socially are able to do so responsibly without becoming intoxicated. For most users of marijuana the primary objective in using marijuana is to become intoxicated, to “get high”.

I’m not convinced this initiative is necessary in Alaska. State law already permits the cultivation of fewer than 25 plants of marijuana for personal use in a private residence. Additionally, personal possession of up to 4 ounces in a private home is allowable under the right to privacy aspect of the Alaska constitution.

An ounce is the equivalent of 60 marijuana cigarettes/joints or the amount needed to make eight pans of “magic brownies.”

In reading reports from Colorado where marijuana is legal, I am alarmed by the reports of children rushed to hospitals after consuming cookies, brownies, candies, etc., laced with marijuana.
As we prepare for the election in November, I hope you reflect on the wisdom of legalizing marijuana in our state, which already has some of the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse in the country and all the attendant social problems that accompany it.

I hope that as we become more informed and reflect on the detrimental health and social effects of expanded use of marijuana, especially in a more potent and concentrated form, we should not adopt this ballot measure.