U.S. Attorney Urges Montana Citizens To Consider Legalization Risks

The U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana has publicly urged citizens to reconsider the potential risks of legalization. Will this affect the vote?

U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana, Kurt Alme, released a statement earlier this week prompting citizens to re-evaluate the consequences of marijuana legalization.

The timing has coincided with a lawsuit being prepared to remove the legalization measures from the election ballot.

Although Alme never discourages against citizens voting in favour of legalization, the statement asks citizens to "consider the risks."

Furthermore, the first statement swiftly reminds citizens that "marijuana offenses will still be illegal under federal law."

Alme reiterates the "serious ramifications" of legalization. Meanwhile, the catalyst behind the release is placed under the umbrella of "public health and safety". Alme strongly suggests that Montana citizens review the details of both I-190 and CI-118 measures that will appear on next month's ballot.

"The Risks" of Legalization

The "serious ramifications" that Alme urges citizens to consider include addiction and the potential increase of marijuana use (using Colorado and Oregon as examples). The release also goes on to state that "traffic fatalities and accidents will increase."

Furthermore, Alme highlights that the measures will "dilute state laws protecting children", suggesting that over 25% of cases relating to minors being removed from abuse and neglect were due to marijuana related offences.

The list goes on: increasing THC levels to impaired driving, a likely increase in hospitalizations, and its potential link to anxiety, depression, and psychotic episodes. It also makes note on the gateway theory: that using marijuana will likely lead to using harsher drugs and misusing painkillers such as opioids.

Smoking marijuana, even occasionally, can increase the risk of severe complications from COVID-19; the Surgeon General recently advised that marijuana exposure, before brain development stops in the mid-20s, can cause long-term harm; and studies link marijuana use to depression, anxiety, suicide planning and psychotic episodes.U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme – U.S. Department of Justice Press Release

The release appears to have cherry-picked all of the statistics applying to the negative connotations of marijuana use. However, amid all of the statistics, the release has overlooked a major insight.

The catalyst behind the release is "public health and safety", yet, the qualifying conditions for medicinal marijuana in Montana are predominately pain and anxiety-based.

What Are The Facts?

In all fairness, Alme does make some valid points, however, a lot of information has also been overlooked.

Yes, addiction can occur in some individuals; marijuana use can impair driving; and yes, if misused at a young age, then it can lead to an increased chance of developing a psychosis (depending on individual genetic, psychological, and environmental factors). These are all facts; however, the issue isn't that they exist, it's that the statement implies that marijuana is a direct cause of these factors. This is simply not the case.

Medicinal marijuana has been legal in Montana since 2004, through a program designed to help those who are in genuine need of care and relief. When Alme lists that marijuana is linked to anxiety and depression, there is no mention that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a current qualifying condition in Montana. PTSD is traumatic-induced panic, and two contributing factors in the disorder are anxiety and depression.

Furthermore, the release makes a point into saying that marijuana use often leads to a misuse of opioids. However, over half of the qualifying conditions for medicinal marijuana in Montana are pain-related. In fact, marijuana is currently being recommended as a suitable alternative over opioids for pain-relief. In Illinois, patients have the option to swap their opioid prescription for medicinal marijuana.

Although the statement statistics are truthful it is missing balance. Marijuana is not a safe option for some people, however, just because legalization may be voted in, doesn't mean that Montana will crumble.

The Upside to Legalization

Marijuana legalization is not as doom and gloom as the press release makes it out to be. There are currently 11 other states that are benefiting from legalization, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cannabis industry has evolved drastically in the past decade. It is now branded as an "essential" industry, its tax and sales revenue contribute to boosts in the economy, and it's a job creator during a service industry recession.

Interestingly, while Alme's statement urges Montana to consider the risks of legalization, it also opens up the platform of communication. Education is key, and perhaps that's what the state needs more so than to simply take the option of adult-use away.

As it stands, the cannabis industry has made strides in recent years, however, it can be easily forgotten that there are generations who lived during the hype of the 'War on Drugs'. It is only natural for some citizens to be more wary towards marijuana.

The legalization debate is more than its potential vices. Everything has a negative implication, and too much of a good thing can very easily turn into something bad. Education is needed to facilitate appropriate, safe use. Marijuana legalization is becoming an issue that circulates around personal choice and personal liberty; what good can come from it remaining illegal?

Furthermore, there is already a black market for the product – the risks are already there. Would it not be more beneficial for the state to implement programs that regulate the education, safety, and treatment of the substance?

Economically the state is already losing income that could be directed into the general fund. Schools, infrastructure, public service, and rehabilitation programs all benefit from tax and sales revenue from cannabis purchases.

Understandably, U.S. Attorney Alme has a duty of care to the public health & safety of Montana citizens. However, it is the citizens choice. The measures may potentially "increase traffic accidents" and "addiction" but these exist anyway outside marijuana use.

Montana citizens have been asked to "consider the risks". If it remains illegal, however, then education and growth remains stagnant. Perhaps the lack of education behind marijuana is more of a risk that legalizing it ever will be.

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Taylor Ridewood
Taylor Ridewood

Taylor is a Sydney-based writer with a background in psychology and professional writing. She has a keen interest in the benefits of medicinal cannabis and enjoys researching the multi-faceted effects of cannabis on the body and mind.

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