Marijuana legalization; a heated debate between local leaders
POSTED: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - 9:10pm
UPDATED: Monday, March 24, 2014 - 3:03pm
El Paso, TX (KTSM) — The legalization of marijuana has become one of the most debated issues worldwide and while several states like Colorado and Washington are leading in one direction that discussion is also taking place in the borderland.
The United States is considered the largest illegal drug consumer in the world despite the illegality in most states. Even though several pro-legalization groups are working to convince the community and lawmakers, not everybody feels it the right time to do it.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 20 million people consume drugs like marijuana and cocaine in the United States. This happens as many of countries like Mexico battle drug cartels in an almost unending war.
"This past year we seized just a little over 85 tons of narcotics, 84 tons of those being marijuana, so we see seizures as well as arrest felons on a daily basis," CBP Chief Officer and Public Liaison Ruben Jauregui said.
For years legalization was out of the question but today that possibility is slowly staring to become a reality. Colt DeMorris is the Executive Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in El Paso. He said his motivation to join the group came after going through difficult times.
"I've witnessed my mother, my grandfather and my wife all go through cancer and I believe cannabis would be an alternative to chemo and radiation," NORML Director Colt DeMorris said.
NORML has extended to most states in the U.S. and has gained victories in Colorado and Washington where marijuana is now legal. The group affirms this drug is not harmful and could even be beneficial.
"It's been proven to be safer, we want to focus on decriminalizing and keeping people out and having easier access for patients," DeMorris said.
But not everyone agrees: Aliviane Rehabilitation spokesperson Guillermo Valenzuela said he's worried about what's happening.
"When we say drug legalization what adolescents are listening is that it's ok and when you talk about medicinal use some of them even infer that that is good for you, talking about legalizing any substance without incorporating the reality of the illness, is somewhat irresponsible," Valenzuela said.
According to Valenzuela there's a red flag as the problem of addiction among children and adults is growing in El Paso.
"We have 19,000 in El Paso that are abusing drugs and we only treat 350 to 400 kids that has to send a strong message not just to our elected officials but the community at large," Valenzuela added.
DeMorris insists legalization could help control the use and save tax payer money.
"What good has prohibition done for us?, you know we waste tax payer money, we waste law enforcement resources and it's not getting us anywhere, it doesn't stop usage, the usage keeps going up at least by legalizing it we could regulate who has their hands on it," DeMorris added.
El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke and Texas Senator Jose Rodriguez agreed a new policy is needed and added that their top priority is to keep it away from children.
"We don't spend money on a war that we can't win that instead we look at alternatives like controlling and regulating its sale and taxing it and keeping it out of the hands of minors." O'Rourke said.
"If the state is able to impose regulations we are taking it out of the shadows out of the black market, out of the hands of the cartel and putting it in the hands of the people of Texas." Rodriguez said.
But what are doctors saying about the harm of marijuana use? El Paso physician Dr. Mateo Porrez said it's not as harmless as most people think.
"Mood changes like anxiety or depression are one of the most concerning signs we might face, high blood pressure injective conjunctive or like red eyes, dried mouth, thirstiness you can have rapid heart rate or what is called tachycardia," Porrez M.D. said.
Though New Mexico lawmakers legalized marijuana for medicinal uses, State Senator Rodriguez said Texas is far from legalizing the drug. Before that happens rehab centers like Aliviane are asking lawmakers to address the issue as a health problem.
"It's very critical that our elected officials that are advocating for any position related to drug policy that they know and understand the consequences of not discussing prevention." Valenzuela concluded.
"I don't think we're ready culturally wise to be prepared in order to consume marijuana freely and think still it has to go and needs to be individualized," Dr. Porrez concluded.
"I would just like to see them do something, people can talk politicians can talk but I would like to see action be done." DeMorris concluded.
Alivine officials say 95 percent of the children at the center have issues related to marijuana. NORML leaders said they encourage a debate and will continue working to persuade others about the change of policy.