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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Highs and lows

The plot, and smoke, thickens September 6, 2020 at 8:21 a.m.

How many times have we been told that, unlike alcohol, marijuana doesn't kill anybody? That's good enough for a bumper sticker because it's simple. And simplistic.

Over the years, the raging alcoholics have undergone a major PR imagine transformation--from Otis of Mayberry to the man who kills a family of four on the interstate.

But for some reason, the image of the pothead hasn't changed much from the laid-back pizza-ordering surfer boy in the movies. Maybe that's why more and more states have been approving the recreational use of marijuana.

Recreational use. Even the nomenclature has turned on us. As if smoking marijuana was simply entertainment, refreshment. Instead of drug use--dangerous drug use.

The folks running the show at Hazelden Betty Ford understand drugs and alcohol. Ask the many people who've recovered in their care. The folks running the show at Hazelden Betty Ford research drugs and alcohol. Ask the many people who've written using their data.

The other day, that international outfit released one of its reports about marijuana--more precisely, driving under the influence of it. While public shaming and education efforts have led to a decrease in drunk driving over the years, driving while high is on the rise, dude.

A body might be surprised by some of the findings, such as:

• Since 1973, the number of drunk drivers on the roads on weekends has dropped 80 percent.

• But since 2007, when other drugs in the systems of drivers were studied, "the number of nighttime weekend drivers who tested positive for delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis, increased by nearly 50 percent, the largest increase among all drugs in the survey."

• In 2018, nearly 5 percent of those surveyed said they had driven under the influence of marijuana in the last year.

• Most of them were between the ages of 21 and 25.

• The next most likely group of people were teens.

Does anybody believe these numbers will drop as more and more states legalize weed? With several outfits trying to put that exact thing on the ballot in Arkansas, does anybody believe this state will be immune?

And does anybody still believe that those under the age of 21 won't get into the stash just because the law has an age limit?

For those who might still not take it seriously, remembering the grass they enjoyed in the 1960s or '70s, and how it seemed harmless at the time, let's not forget: This is not your father's marijuana. Or even your younger self's grass.

The stuff on the street now is potent. It was made that way. We are reminded of a column written by reporter Alex Berenson in The Wall Street Journal not long ago. And his thoughts about the dangers--or at least the unknowns--of marijuana use:

"[Today's smokers] are consuming cannabis that is far more potent than ever before, as measured by the amount of THC it contains. THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for the drug's psychoactive effects. In the 1970s, most marijuana contained less than 2 percent THC. Today, marijuana routinely contains 20-25 percent THC, thanks to sophisticated farming and cloning techniques and to the demand of users to get a stronger high more quickly. In states where cannabis is legal, many users prefer extracts that are nearly pure THC."

And this is the stuff modern smokers are inhaling before they get behind the wheel.

A lot more research must be done, a lot more data must be gathered, a lot more discussions need to be had, before we turn our kids loose on this stuff. And then turn some of them loose on the highways, which will surely happen.

Before Arkansas takes another step in the legalization of pot, maybe we should ask for more research about how it affects We the People. There's a place called Hazelden Betty Ford that has some numbers . . . .

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