David Ellis: The social costs of easing marijuana laws in the District

Marijuana smokers in the District could get more legal leeway soon – but that’s not something to cheer about.

D.C. already makes marijuana legal for residents with medical prescriptions. The first legally sanctioned medical marijuana sale happened about three weeks ago at Capital City Care, a new dispensary merely blocks away from the Capitol and Drug Enforcement Administration buildings.

Now, D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, D-Ward 6, is pushing a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for citizens of the city. A majority of legislators said this summer that they would support this bill.

And on the surface, it seems like many GW students would support decriminalization. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, but about 30 percent of college students have smoked weed in the past year, according to a recent survey by Core Institute at Southern Illinois University.

But enacting looser laws on marijuana use in the District would have serious economic and social consequences.

I spent the majority of my summer in Denver – a city in a state perhaps best known for winter sports and weed. Walking around downtown, the smell of marijuana was almost always overwhelming. Weed is legal there for recreational purposes, regulated like alcohol and available for purchase to people 21 and over.

Residents’ newfound liberties took their toll on me. Eating in restaurants with stoned workers made ordering food frustrating. It was so outrageous that I found myself saying, “The fact that I don’t want lettuce on my cheeseburger is not the funniest thing in the world. Please stop laughing.”

Of course, I can empathize with other students who want marijuana legalized. I’m from Austin, Texas, another city known for its perpetual Woodstock vibe. Half of my graduating class’ research papers argued for marijuana legalization, and many of them were no strangers to every form of ingestion. I was constantly updated on the latest and so-called greatest waterfall bongs, vaporizers, pipes, joints, edibles and strains. You name it, they used it.

But I’ve seen firsthand these same friends lose their motivation. The subject of their paper, not actually writing the essay itself, became their priority. This laziness by excessive marijuana users was pervasive. I can only imagine what it would have been like had marijuana been legalized in Austin, making it even easier to access.

Proponents of medical marijuana – most recently, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta – argue that it has legitimate uses. And others say that D.C.’s medical marijuana regulations are stringent, and that marijuana will only be provided to individuals with certain specific and otherwise incurable illnesses.

But even if that’s so, this national debate, which has now made its way to the District, has established a dangerous precedent – a slippery slope.

Do we want D.C. – the center of American politics and policymaking – to turn into Austin or Denver? I don’t think so.

David Ellis is a junior majoring in finance.

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