This year Alaskans are slated to address the issue of possibly legalizing marijuana. What I haven't seen from the other states that have voted on this issue is any type of educational requirements prior to getting the "right" to use this drug. Why? Is it because we already get the privilege to use alcohol in this country just because we reach the age of 21? Is it because we are used to being reactive rather than proactive? Is it because -- as many people think -- it ends up creating "business/income" for the legal system and its representatives?
We have to pass a written test and a vision test as well as a driving test in order to get our driver's licenses. Most people attend some kind of schooling and have someone teach them how to operate a motor vehicle prior to actually taking the tests. We are taught the rights, responsibilities and penalties associated with getting a license. Why not do the same for psychoactive substances?
My suggestion would be to require educational classes and passing a test as any part of legalization of this not so -- as many people think -- benign drug. In addition, I would have the applicant sign a type of waiver stating that he or she is aware of the dangers associated with using marijuana and will take full responsibility if any of these dangers are realized and not put the burden on society. Addicts often say, "It is none of your business what I do with my own body;" however, when they get into serious trouble due to their use they often say, "You've got to help me -- right now." And, P.S., "You have to pay for it because I spent all my money (on alcohol or drugs)."
Many people will say, "What dangers?" because we all hear the litany of what legalization proponents say are the positive aspects of marijuana, especially as compared to alcohol. However, there have also been many negative side effects associated with marijuana use, especially chronic use. I would hope that even proponents of legalization would agree that an individual should be aware of all potential aspects of use prior to engaging in any use.
Having worked in the addictions field for over 25 years and taught education classes for most of those years, I have had numerous individuals thank me at the end of the class and express their surprise at having learned so much about alcohol and drug use that they were unaware of prior to taking the class. Most of my students had been convicted of drunken driving; the state requires that they take the 12-hour class and pass the final test along with other penalties before they will be eligible to get their driver's license reinstated. Many students stated that they wished they had taken the class prior to getting a driver's license, and thought the class should be required prior to getting a license. I agree.
People have to carry medical marijuana cards now; if pot is legalized in Alaska why not have people carry marijuana cards that show they are aware of the rights, responsibilities and penalties for misuse.
And, yes, I think we should also do this for alcohol. Why not?
Michael Gencarelle is an administrator and teacher for Addiction Assessments in Anchorage.