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Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Candidates oppose legalizing marijuana

Friday, November 1, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Despite growing public support for legalizing marijuana, local commonwealth’s attorneys and a challenger in the Nov. 5 election all say they oppose changing the law.

The Henry County and Martinsville prosecutors said they base their opposition to the legalization of marijuana on the fact that it is considered a gateway to the use of other drugs; the current abuse of prescription medicine; and the long-term impact on society.

Marijuana already has been legalized in Colorado and Washington, and advocates in California are poised to introduce legislation in 2014 to legalize it there, according to published reports.

Also, according to the results of a Gallup poll released last week, 58 percent of Americans favor legalizing the drug. Reasons cited for the growing support ranged from the prevalence of medical marijuana as a socially acceptable way to alleviate symptoms of diseases to the financial benefits of taxing and regulating the drug, according to Gallup.

“I am dead set against legalization

of marijuana because I think” doing so is counterproductive to “everything we have set up now” to help people who are drug abusers, said Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Andrew Nester, who is running unopposed Nov. 5 for his first full term in office.

Nester cited efforts to help drug abusers, such as the First Offender Programs and others, that seek to educate and curb the desire to use drugs. If marijuana was legalized, he said it would almost be like saying, “We are losing the war against drugs. In my eyes, it is a gateway drug” that leads to more drug use and abuse, Nester said.

“It is not uncommon that people will abuse marijuana as an entry-level drug” and then “need that next high and look for something else” that is stronger, he said.

In Henry County, Nester said, abuse of even prescription medicine “is rampant. We are probably having as much trouble, if not more, with abuse of prescription medicine as we do with abuse or use of illegal drugs. It is easier for our informants to buy prescription pills than it is for them to buy illegal drugs,” he said.

As for monetary benefits of legalizing the sale of marijuana, “without a question, there are huge revenues that would be gained on the front end,” Nester said. But “on the back side, there is a ton of fallout, such as what it would do to people’s health, the impact on Medicaid, Medicare and the cost of insurance, because now, we’ve got to treat all those people” who used the drug and suffer from related health issues, he said.

Legalizing the drug “looks lucrative, but I think what you’re ending up with is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and there will be negative financial results long term,” Nester said.

Martinsville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joan Ziglar said the trade off for any financial gain “is not worth it at all.” Legalizing marijuana would lead to increased experimentation with other, more potent drugs as users “seek something stronger” to get the same effect, she said.

There is conflicting data about the addictive qualities in marijuana, but recent studies show that “it does have an addictive trait to it, and that leads to people craving it, wanting it, and then experimenting with stronger drugs,” Ziglar said.

“Absolutely, it is a gateway drug. There are those who feel like they can’t cope without it,” she said. But once their bodies adjust to a certain amount of the drug, she said, the impact fades, and abusers are left looking for a replacement drug to try and achieve a similar high.

Also, with the legalization of marijuana, Ziglar said a “whole new field of case law” would need to be written to address issues such as driving under the influence, using the drug around children, whether law enforcement officers would test those suspected of driving under the influence for marijuana use as they do for alcohol use, and other concerns.

“We are barely catching up with all these drugs now that are legal, and we are still having problems with alcohol and prescription” drug use and abuse, she said.

Clay Gravely, who is opposing Ziglar in the Nov. 5 election, said he also does not think legalizing marijuana is a “good idea. Those are decisions that are left to legislators, and the role of the prosecutor is to enforce the law as it applies. But I don’t think that making illegal drugs legal” is a good idea.

“I think that label (gateway drug) has merit. I think the way we handle our drug problem is through education and enforcement,” Gravely said.

And, from a prosecutor’s perspective, “I think the societal impact is a negative one overall, and anybody that wants to make the argument that it would generate revenue leaves out a big part of the argument,” he said.


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