I like Gov. Phil Murphy, but he's making a liar out of me. Me and millions of parents. For a couple of generations now, mothers and fathers have been warning children about the dangers of pot smoking. Now the governor comes along and tells them there is no Santa Claus.

I’ve been warning my children about pot for 20 years. That’s not exaggeration. It started when my 35-year-old was a middle schooler and continues right up today.

Armed only with anecdotal evidence, what I call the "science of observation," I told my kids pot makes you lazy and lethargic, and dumbs you down. And once the calming buzz of marijuana is no longer enough, I told them, it leads to harder drug use.

Sign Up for E-News

Their counter argument could always be summed up in two words and a contraction. “No it doesn’t.” That and “it’s not worse than alcohol.”

Stuck with nothing at my disposal but hazy real scientific evidence, I countered with stories from my own high school years, recounting the derelict behavior of the kids I knew who were potheads.

And soon enough, my kids would have their own stories that supported my anecdotal evidence. 

Some were funny. The friend who forgot to ditch the pot in her handbag before going through airport screening. Another who nonchalantly opened his glove compartment after being pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, only to have last night’s leftover weed fall out in front of police.

But some were tragic. In more than one case, the kid who was an eight-grade pot smoker was an opiate or heroin addict midway through high school. One died from an overdose. That boy was close to my family, which put us in the company of millions of families across America these days who personally know a casualty of the drug epidemic.

We have an opiate crisis on our hands, yet our elected leaders are rushing to legalize recreational marijuana. Does that make sense to anyone? 

I know comparing opiates to pot is apples to oranges. But they come from the same culture of escapism by blunting fears and pain, rather than take them head on. That’s my opinion, anyway. Legalizing pot feeds that culture.

The most enduring and salient argument for pot legalization is when it is compared to alcohol. Proponents say alcohol is far more damaging physically and mentally than pot, which I’ll assume for now is true. But this is like saying that since the river is already polluted, why not pollute it more? Or as your parents used to say, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

State Sen. Ron Rice, a former Marine and Newark police officer and member of New Jersey’s Black Caucus, put it this way.

"The last thing we need in Newark, which is finally starting to experience a comeback, is more stoned people on the street," Rice said. "I see this as big-money interests coming in to do harm to our community. Believe me, I've seen the effects of alcohol and drugs on our streets. There are foreseeable consequences of legalization we would be negligent not to look at."

Big money? Yes and no. Pot will generate an estimate $1.8 billion in annual sales. The state tax part of that pie will be about $210 million, hardly enough to slash property taxes in a state with $40 billion in government expenditures.

"You can't make an economic argument when people's lives are at stake," Rice said. “It is morally wrong for us to legalize any drug without fully understanding what we're getting into.”

City or suburbs, the biggest unknown is the impact of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on the forming brain of adolescents and young adults. Proponents argue that pot will only be legalized for adults. But we all know how that goes. 

There is conclusive proof that marijuana changes the chemistry of the developing brain, leading to the validation of my decades-old anecdotal evidence: it impairs attention and memory, and negatively impact learning and decision-making.

Other studies show heavy pot use in teens and young adults is associated with bad grades, higher dropout rates, more unemployment and dependence on social services.

"There's a growing literature and it's all pointing in the same direction: starting young and using frequently may disrupt brain development," said Susan Weiss, the director of the division of extramural research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in a American Psychology Association article.

Still, polls say most Jerseyans and Americans are for the legalization of marijuana. 

And this, of course, calls to mind another thing your parents used to say: just because your friends do it doesn’t make it right.

 

Mark Di Ionno is a Pulitzer Prize finalist in news commentary, six-time winner of the New Jersey Press Association award for best column writing and author of five acclaimed books, including his new novel "Gods of Wood & Stone." To contact Mark with news tips or arrange for free book club visits or community talks, go to markdiionno.com