BENTON - Prosecutors around the country are being urged to take a stand against attempts to legalize or decriminalize controlled substances - in particular, marijuana.
"Those who support drug legalization are well funded and highly adept at manipulating the media," reads a Nov. 1 letter to prosecutors from the president of the National District Attorneys Association, Dan M. Alsobrooks. "And they do not mind deceiving the American public as well."
The letter warns of "incremental victories" by those in favor of legalizing drugs and notes the "key role" local prosecutors play in anti-drug efforts.
Included with the letter was an open letter also dated Nov. 1 from Scott M. Burns, deputy director for state and local affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, urging prosecutors "to take a stand publicly and tell Americans the truth" about marijuana and warning of "deceptive campaigns to normalize and ultimately legalize the use of marijuana."
"I think it would be a nightmare to legalize it," agreed Scott County Assistant Prosecutor Paul Boyd. "It would lead to so many more people out there high operating machinery and other things." Boyd will be sworn in as the next county prosecutor at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Of the 16 million drug users in America, 77 percent use marijuana and 60 percent of teenagers in treatment have a primary marijuana diagnosis, according to Burns. "No drug matches the threat posed by marijuana."
Marijuana, Burns writes in the letter, is not harmless but has risen as a factor in emergency room visits 176 percent since 1994, surpassing heroin.
Burns writes of the increasing potency of marijuana and its addictive properties in addition to being a "gateway drug" for many people.
"I would agree that marijuana is a gateway drug to hardcore drugs," Boyd said. Marijuana is "the great seducer," Boyd said, because "it breaks down a person's defense to say 'no' to the harder drugs."
John McMinn of Charleston, administrator for the Circuit 33 Drug Court, also agrees that marijuana remains a problem for the courts.
According to National Institute of Justice statistics on arrests, 39 percent of the males and 26 percent of the females test positive for marijuana, and 53 percent of male juveniles and 38 percent of female juveniles test positive.
"Roughly 80 percent of adult offenders in the 33rd Circuit Court come in with some kind of a drug issue be it alcohol or some other drug," McMinn said.
"More people enter drug treatment every year because of marijuana as their drug of choice," he added.
McMinn said a 2001 study of students in grades 8-10 showed 20 percent of 8th graders had used marijuana and 9 percent were current users, defined as having used the drug within the past 30 days. By the 12th grade, nearly half of the students had tried marijuana and 22 percent were current users.
McMinn does think research on medicinal and therapeutic properties should be pursued: "There is still so much research left to be done regarding the use of marijuana - the good and the bad."
However, "there are other drugs that will work as well as marijuana," he added, with some of the alternatives being more addictive and others that are just as effective while being safer.