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Opinions vary on legalizing recreational use of marijuana in Texas

America Moreno, Staff Writer

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The state Legislature in its 2017 session passed legislation which allowed a certain amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects, to be used for medical purposes in Texas. This has sparked hope in some that the state will permit treatment for patients with conditions other than intractable epilepsy.

There has been some discussion whether the Legislature will further loosen restrictions on recreational use of marijuana in the 2019 or future sessions.

Laredo residents expressed their opinions towards possible legislation and how it could affect the citizens of Texas.

What is marijuana and what are the effects of the substance?

Cannabis is said to be first originated in Central Asia 500 BC. and was used primarily for herbal medicine. Cannabis in America can be traced back to the early colonists where hemp was grown for textiles and ropes. At this moment in time, cannabis is used for its “high” effect.

For those who aren’t familiar with the drug, marijuana contains 483 known compounds. Active ingredients in the plant are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC); cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid; cannabinol (CBN), the parent compound of tetrahydrocannabinol; and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found naturally in Cannabis sativa.

Are you in favor of the Texas Legislature legalizing marijuana for recreational use?

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Marijuana can be smoked, eaten, or vaporized.  It’s used as a blunt, cigars that have marijuana instead of tobacco; a cigarette (typically called a joint), edibles, a food form of marijuana; or in a pipe or bong. Joints and blunts are often dipped in phencyclidine (PCP), a drug that has hallucinogenic effects, for a more “happy” result.

When a person smokes marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) passes from the lungs into the bloodstream, which carries it to organs throughout the body, including the brain, according to National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. The effects begin immediately which can result in complicating the process of making decisions, concentration, and memory. The people who use marijuana on a daily basis can run the risk of being permanently affected more than those who occasionally do. This can lead to poor memory and loss of control of the person’s brain.

Other effects of marijuana include an altered sense of time, changes in mood, impaired body movement, breathing problems, increased heart rate, problems with child development during and after pregnancy, intense nausea and vomiting, temporary hallucinations and temporary paranoia.

Scientifically suggested, the human mind is fully developed by the age of 25. As a teenager, medical literature states using drugs can damage the development process of a young person’s brain. By extensively using marijuana, teenagers can permanently harm their brain and prevent themselves from fully maturing.  

Many teenagers nowadays focus on how popular drugs seem to be without knowing the risk they’re taking by using dangerous substances. Marijuana is often considered a harmless drug due to the fact that it is a plant. However, there are many consequences that come from smoking pot.

I think marijuana is a start on why teenagers use even more dangerous drugs. For example, if an adolescent has been smoking pot for a while now, the teenager will want to try something new with a new effect. That can lead to the usage of other dangerous drugs such as heroin or cocaine at a young age.”

— Juan Moreno

Outcomes of illegal marijuana in Laredo, Texas

The Texas Department of State Health Services, along with the Laredo and United independent school districts, coordinated to provide surveys for Texas Elementary (6th grade) and Secondary School (7-12 grade) which are conducted by Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse and the Public Policy Resources Institute of Texas A&M University. One of the results showed that a quarter of secondary school students and between 3 and 7 percent of 6th graders have used marijuana during their lifetimes. School surveys show that marijuana is being used more throughout the years and that it has become the most popular drug in Laredo.

The constant warfare between law enforcement and drug smugglers jas resulted in many arrests for the illegal possession and distribution of marijuana. Due to Laredo’s location on the Mexican border, opposite of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, and its role in international trade, the city has become a major drug entry point. The Laredo Sector of the U.S. Border Patrol has stopped countless tons of marijuana destined for illegal distribution once it passes through Laredo. Smuggling marijuana and other substances have become a major conflict that has resulted in marijuana being found in schools, especially in high schools.

In my “home” high school, it’s a well-known occurrence to have searches throughout the school day for attempting to find drugs on students. There have been many occasions where students smoke marijuana in the school’s restrooms and immediately a search is initiated by the principal. Members of the administration go from class to class, searching every backpack of every student. As a result, they generally end up finding a backpack with drugs inside. The student then faces consequences as stated in the school district’s student handbook.

Mark Webber, VMT Journalism instructor and one of those interviewed for this story, agreed that marijuana should be restricted in schools since it would be a distraction for the students.

“Back when I was in high school, there used to be a smoking area where students and teachers would go to smoke (cigarettes). The students would go there during lunchtime to smoke and eventually they were joined by some teachers. Now, it is against the law to smoke (cigarettes) in public buildings, and I would expect to see the same restrictions with marijuana,” Webber said.

In the meantime, a nationwide movement of legalizing both for recreational use and medical marijuana has started.

That the state passed a law allowing a medicinal form of marijuana to be prescribed instead of chemical pills says a lot. I think President Trump is also leaning towards that direction, by having the government remove marijuana from the list of harmful illegal drugs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the federal government going through with this and the whole country change course from what it has been, classifying it as a drug and arresting people, to where it is accepted.”

— Mark Webber

Under the nation’s drug scheduling system, operated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the federal government acknowledges marijuana as a schedule 1 drug, meaning it has no medical value and comes with a high potential for abuse. The classification puts marijuana in the same category as heroin and in a more restrictive category than schedule 2 drugs such as cocaine and meth.

In regards to all of the states that have legalized marijuana, it is still considered illegal by the federal government.

Medical Marijuana

Despite all harm that marijuana can cause, it is often used positively. Medical marijuana is documented for saving lives. Research shows that medical marijuana has been legalized in many states due to the results it brings. Even Texas has allowed some dispensaries, places where cannabis is sold for medical purposes, to open. Medical marijuana can help with many conditions such as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), autism, cancer, HIV/AIDS, anorexia, and many more. However, Texas only allows people to be treated for intractable epilepsy with medical marijuana. Despite how restricted it may seem, the fact that Texas has allowed for a few dispensaries to open is a sign of hope that one day recreational use of marijuana will be legal for the state’s residents.

States such as Arizona, North Dakota, Minnesota, and many others have legalized marijuana for medical use. Each has dispensaries where people can go and get treated for illnesses such as cancer, glaucoma, human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, hepatitis C, intractable nausea and many others. Medical marijuana has changed people’s lives, evidence shows.

Opinions of Laredo residents

Furthermore, part of this research involves asking locals, of different ages, for their insight on medical marijuana being legalized in Texas and whether they are for or against the recreational use of marijuana.

An underaged marijuana user, who will not be identified, said she believes that recreational use of marijuana should be legalized, especially now that other states have legalized it.

She said she believes the legalization will bring both benefits and conflicts for the state and residents, but more benefits in the end.

“Texas could greatly benefit through the legalization by taxing the subject and have a decrease of the amount of illegal drugs on the streets. However, strong protestors of the legalization may arise and contradict the supporters,” she said.

The underage user mentioned that she wouldn’t mind being taxed as long as she got to use marijuana legally when she is of age.

The underage user said she believes legalization should come with restrictions, with a minimum age of 25, after learning about the human’s brain development. However, she did not state a specific amount of what a person can possess.

When asked whether if schools should take the extra step of prohibiting marijuana on their property, the user agreed it should be a good idea.

“I think the use of marijuana should be prohibited on campus as it may interfere with classes; however, I don’t think it would be necessary to confiscate it unless it was being used,” she said.

Thinking long-term, the user mentioned that when the legalization happens, marijuana will eventually be seen as normal. After some time, the rebellious appeal of marijuana will decrease.

As an underage person that uses marijuana illegally, she claims that marijuana has helped her when it comes to anxiety and paranoia; however, she has noticed that her memory is not as good as she wants it to be.

The underage user was not aware of medical marijuana being legal in Texas, nor about the dispensaries in Austin that allow patients with epilepsy to be treated. However, the user hopes that one day Texas will offer treatment for other conditions in the near future.  

Overall, the underage user hopes that recreational use of marijuana will happen sooner than later.

Possible conflicts

Victoria Hernandez, 17 years old and a junior, says she has a liberal attitude towards marijuana. She said she supports people who use recreational marijuana despite not being a user of the substance herself. However, she believes marijuana will create conflicts regarding those who use it.

“I think conflicts would emerge, although marijuana isn’t as serious as cocaine, it still is highly addictive. Now that I’m a teenager, I have seen people my age smoke weed like it’s nothing. I personally would say that marijuana has become more accessible over the years which could be a danger to younger ages and their adolescent development,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said Laredoans who buy marijuana if and when it is legalized will pay taxes on their purchases. She thinks that crime rates would decrease since people are now arrested with only a few grams on them.  

If marijuana does get legalized, I believe the government will have to think about any possible situation where the law will be violated. In my opinion, before legalizing marijuana, they should make sure all laws and restrictions are loud and clear for those who have the intent to illegally distribute marijuana.”

— Orestes Verge

She argues that marijuana should come with restrictions, with age and quantity for what a person can possess. She agreed that it should be restricted until people reach the age of 25.

“My criminal justice teacher in freshman year was talking about different kinds of drugs and what they can do to our bodies. He said that the human mind fully develops at the age of 25, which was surprising because many addictions start extremely young,” Hernandez said.

As for the amount, Hernandez said should the Legislature approve recreational marijuana, 5-8 grams per person per purchase should suffice.

Hernandez said she would also want more conditions to be added in the dispensaries in Austin so more people can get treated. She said she would definitely want treatment with medical marijuana if she was ill with a condition that qualified for its use.

Furthermore, Hernandez thinks punishments should be less harsh if legalizing recreational use of marijuana occurs. She does not see why punishments should remain the same as now after it is made legal.

Hernandez agrees that schools should prohibit marijuana.

“Schools should prohibit marijuana on school grounds because then having it be in school, students can have exchanges of money and marijuana. That could make it even more accessible to teenagers and lead to having an abundance of marijuana users within school,” Hernandez said.

She believes that if recreational marijuana gets legalized, she foresees some people will support the idea of legalizing cocaine and heroin, but says that it will not happen since they are more dangerous than weed.

Hernandez said teenagers may find smoking marijuana “cool” because of how popular it is among celebrities and people that surround them. However, she argues that state government should still promote the consequences for adolescents if it is legalized.

“Having marijuana legalized, teenagers might think that nothing could happen to them since it’s been legalized. The government should have requirements and have warnings in schools about what marijuana can do to an adolescent,” Hernandez said.

Some problems fixed, others created

With a more moderate attitude, Orestes Verge, 18 years old, approaches legalization as something that does not affect him.

When asked if he was a conservative or liberal when it comes to marijuana, his answer was neither.

“If marijuana does get legalized, it will not affect me nor the people that surround me. Therefore, I’m not against nor up for it,” Verge said.

Verge says he keeps an open mind as he answered questions such as marijuana having restrictions if it is legalized.

“I believe marijuana should have restrictions towards age and quantity. Simply because of the fact that even though marijuana is considered to be a harmless plant, the age and quantity can heavily damage the growth of the mind. I think it should have a restriction to 25 years (of age) since we are fully developed at that age,” Verge said.

Despite not being affected by the legalization of cannabis, Verge suggests that it will create problems yet fix others at the same time. He believes it will decrease the crimes of illegal distribution and the arrests of people that have their own personal use of recreational use marijuana. However, he believes that with the many restrictions and permits of having marijuana in hand, drug dealers will see it as permission to publicly sell small doses of marijuana to any possible client.

“If marijuana does get legalized, I believe the government will have to think about any possible situation where the law will be violated. In my opinion, before legalizing marijuana, they should make sure all laws and restrictions are loud and clear for those who have the intent to illegally distribute marijuana,” Verge said.

Verge said that although medical marijuana can have positive uses, many people could get addicted without knowing.

“I know of people that have had the medical assistance of marijuana but have found it difficult to live without it. They depend on it too much such as those who use the recreational marijuana on a daily basis,” he said.

Overall, Verge believes marijuana should have restrictions to prevent any kind of conflict and discourage people from breaking the law.

Seeing the effects first-hand

This reporter interviewed an experienced, older person with the goal of having better insight into a mature mind. Juan Moreno, who’s in his 40s, has a strong attitude towards the legalization of recreational use of marijuana.

“I believe marijuana affects many people with the way they think. It’s some sort of manipulation that can lead to harming others or themselves,” Moreno said.

Moreno stated that marijuana can ultimately harm a person despite it being referred to as a “harmless plant.” He says he speaks from experience when he states that marijuana can turn a person violent and lead them to do violent things such as stealing.

Moreno has had relatives in the past that have extensively used marijuana, which he said led to serious problems with the law. He believes a person under the influence of marijuana could commit acts that a person with their five senses intact would never dare to do.

Moreno sees marijuana as the start of something that will only get worse when it comes to teenagers using the drug.

“I think marijuana is a start on why teenagers use even more dangerous drugs. For example, if an adolescent has been smoking pot for a while now, the teenager will want to try something new with a new effect. That can lead to the usage of other dangerous drugs such as heroin or cocaine at a young age,” Moreno said.

Moreno added marijuana can be addicting, especially to young people. He agrees with the idea that teenagers will view the legalization of marijuana as a good thing.

“If the legalization of recreational marijuana in Texas comes to be, there should be restrictions on the age and quantity per month when it’s being purchased,” Moreno said.

Moreno stated that people should be qualified to buy legal marijuana. He broached how government should take on the responsibility of knowing which people who deal with weed react worse than others. He said he believes some people are vulnerable to marijuana, which could result in violent acts; therefore, it should be highly restricted to those with a threatening past.

Moreno is certain that the legalization will bring even more crime regardless of the positive outcomes concerning the increase of the economy of other states that have done the decriminalization of marijuana.  

“Of course, there will be profit with the legalization, but it will only benefit the government and those who will sell. Not everyone will be positively affected with the legalization of marijuana,” Moreno said.

Moreno used the fact that marijuana has been illegal all these years for his reason why it will bring consequences. He’s aware that it has been illegal because, in the end, marijuana has its negative effects on some people. He said he has confidence that the nontraditional movement is money motivated. The government realizes how much profit the dealers of the substance make and would want their share by taxing buyers, according to Moreno.

Whereas being heavily against the recreational use of marijuana, Moreno supports the idea of medical marijuana being legal in Texas. He claims that medical marijuana happens due to the fact that the substance is a natural plant and it can bring wonders. He agrees that despite all the negative outcomes that marijuana causes, medical marijuana can help many with different health conditions.

Legalization will eventually happen

With a more liberal to moderate attitude toward the legalization of marijuana, Mark Webber believes recreational use of the substance will happen soon or later. He states that he wouldn’t be surprised if legalization occurs despite the state being led by a conservative government.

“That the state passed a law allowing a medicinal form of marijuana to be prescribed instead of chemical pills says a lot. I think President Trump is also leaning towards that direction, by having the government remove marijuana from the list of harmful illegal drugs. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the federal government going through with this and the whole country change course from what it has been, classifying it as a drug and arresting people, to where it is accepted,” Webber said.

Webber said he believes there will be positive and negative outcomes if legalization for recreational use occurs.

“Positively, there will be revenue for the state with the taxing of the people buying it, but it will negatively impact peoples’ health,” Webber said.

He said people who may occasionally use marijuana recreationally could become heavy users or otherwise abuse it. He gave as an example sometimes people who drink alcoholic beverages may binge drink. He said the possibility is also there for people to “binge smoke.”

Webber stated how as a teen, he never saw marijuana as a drug. He said he had never met anybody who used the substance until college when fellow students in his residence hall would smoke marijuana. The smoke, Webber said, eventually made its way to other rooms on his floor through the air conditioning system.

He believes teenagers could have the same mindset towards marijuana, as they could see the legalization of marijuana as a good thing and use it to get with the trend, he said.

Webber believes legalization should come with restrictions to prohibit the abuse of recreational marijuana, such as with the age being 21, due to the process of still-growing bodies.

Small quantities shouldn’t too much for the average person, he said.

“Moderation is fine. A little bit is not going to hurt. Using it constantly, for many hours a day, I think would be harmful. A person would be on the safe side if they used marijuana occasionally. It would be like a person who drinks a beer with a meal. There’s no abuse, it’s just having something to enjoy. However, sitting down with a case of beer and drinking the whole case at once, at least the way I see it, is going overboard,” Webber said.

Additionally, Webber said he does not think legalization should come with restrictions when it comes to the amount of marijuana purchased. However, he added, if the government restricts the quantity of what people can buy and possess, punishments should be enforced for those who don’t abide the law.

As with many others, Webber said he is aware of medical marijuana. He said he has read articles about veterans in other states using it illegally as a way of coping with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that was caused by war. He argues that it should be made legal for them if it positively affects them.

Webber said only time will show how legalization will affect Texas and the country. 

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Opinions vary on legalizing recreational use of marijuana in Texas