Three petition drives are underway in Arizona to legalize recreational marijuana. They should all fail. Marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to greater social and criminal problems.
I speak from a wide swath of experience.
I grew up playing golf, surfing, going to the University of Arizona to play football and study finance. My first job out of college was as a Wall Street stock options trader, where I earned enough to leave the business at the age of 29. Life was good.
Five years later, I was living in a bush in south Phoenix.
Marijuana, pain killers and cocaine wiped out my bank account. I turned to burglary to feed my habit and ended up behind bars six times. My life did not turn around until a judge sent me to a Salvation Army drug treatment program. I broke my addiction, earned a teaching accreditation and went to work for the Salvation Army. Today, I chair the board.
I’m also the community liaison for Sage Counseling, which provides outpatient drug treatment via the criminal justice system.
So I’ve seen what drugs do first-hand. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “I wish I’d never smoked that first joint,” I’d be as well off as I was in my Wall Street days. Marijuana is the first step to deeper and deeper addictions.
It’s particularly acute among those who are sensitive to the woes of the world. They mourn strongly everything from the loss of a close relative to distant events like the massacre in Las Vegas. Smoking weed makes it easier to cope, so every bump in the road becomes a reason to light up. And when marijuana isn’t enough, they move on to other drugs.
That was me. I had to rewire my brain to learn how to deal with problems in a positive way instead of medicating them away.
Knowing this, why would we want to make marijuana more available?
Marijuana also takes away motivation. If, as parents, we’re pressing our teen children to work hard in school, marijuana cancels us out. The teen brain is already strange enough without tossing in a powerful drug like marijuana.
It’s the same for someone trying to work their way out of homelessness, which requires a great deal of effort and motivation. If they’re using marijuana, a drug that says it’s OK to do nothing all day, they lose their motivation to land a place of their own. Pot tells them their life is great as they hold a scribbled sign on a street corner.
The Salvation Army operates a homeless shelter in Denver. It was averaging about 180 people a night. After Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, the nightly head count jumped to between 500 and 600.
At first we assumed these were out-of-state newcomers, lured by legal marijuana. We were wrong. A recent study found the newly homeless are mostly Colorado residents, and they are all ages. They lost their housing after becoming addicted to marijuana that is far more powerful than baby boomers and Generation X experienced. It has been cultivated to drive sales, and the only way to do that is to make it stronger and more addictive.
Marijuana has done enough damage. We don’t need to make it more available in Arizona.
However heartwarming my story may be, I wish I had never smoked that first joint. I wish I had never let it lead me to more powerful drugs. And I wish I had never fallen into sleeping under a bush.
I don’t want to see any other Arizonan follow in those footsteps.
— Jeff Taylor is chairman of the Phoenix Salvation Army Advisory Board and an appointee to Gov. Doug Ducey’s Substance Abuse Task Force.