Washington — Opposition to the legalization of marijuana is on "the side of science and the side of fact," said William J. Bennett, a former U.S. secretary of education and former federal "drug czar."
He called it "remarkable that there are so many in denial" about the harmful effects of pot.
Bennett made the comments Monday in discussing his new book on the topic at an event at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
The book, Going to Pot: Why the Rush to Legalize Marijuana Is Harming America, was co-written by attorney Robert A. White.
It discusses both the statistics and stories surrounding the current debate on marijuana legalization, the advocates for which are "well-organized, well-funded and on their way to harming America, especially our children," according to White.
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The talk focused heavily on statistics and studies on legalization and medical use of pot.
"The research on this is overwhelming. You don't have to believe all of the science; only half or a third of the science will do," said Bennett, a Catholic.
White and Bennett cited research that shows marijuana use been associated with permanently lowered IQ levels, diminished motivation, impaired short-term memory, cognitive impairment, addiction, and diminished life satisfaction and achievement.
They also said that on average, cannabis is about 300 percent more potent today than in the 1970s. To illustrate those different levels of the intoxicating chemical in pot, the authors said it is like the difference between the alcohol content in a 12-ounce beer and in a 12-ounce glass of vodka.
"Good idea?" Bennett asked. "It doesn't seem so."
Bennett and White then addressed the campaign to broaden legalization of marijuana for medical use, saying it is another area where the public has been misinformed.
"Advocates for this have been using anecdote and emotion to push the notion that this is a compassion issue," White said.
"The two words people love to use in those kinds of positions are 'bigot' and 'heartless,' " Bennett added. "They say things like, 'How could you keep this medicine from this little girl?' when our data shows us that most people seeking marijuana for 'medical' reasons are males between the ages of 18 and 30 and it's for 'severe pain' rather than glaucoma, cancer or MS," he said.
He said research shows that in some cases, as few as 5 percent of medical marijuana license applications had to do with those four diseases.
Physicians have better ways to treat patients' pain than recommending marijuana, Bennett said. "What I hear over and over when I talk to doctors," he explained, "is that they say that if you have a medical degree and specialty, it doesn't make all that much sense to tell a patient in this day in age to set some dried leaves on fire and inhale the smoke."
However, what concerned the authors the most were the implications of legalization for children.
"What we're expecting, in places where it's legalized, is a business model that similar to big tobacco's; it's one that relies on addiction and aims a great deal of advertisement at children and young people," White told the audience ,while showing picture after picture of colorful advertisements and wrappers of cannabis-infused candies.
According to White and Bennett's findings, states where marijuana has been legalized have seen higher levels of consumption in children between the ages of 12 and 17, as well as massive spikes in drug-related school incidents and suspensions.
While marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, a patchwork of state pot laws exists. Four states have legalized the use of both recreational and medicinal marijuana: Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon. Voters in the District of Columbia approved a pro-marijuana initiative, but Congress has to review it before it takes effect.
In several other states, the use of recreational and/or medical marijuana is legal or at least decriminalized. For now, pot remains illegal in 23 states.
While the Catholic church has largely stayed neutral in the public debate over the issue, several church leaders have spoken out regarding drug use and marijuana legalization efforts. In June 2014, Pope Francis said legalizing marijuana and other "recreational drugs" has never curbed addiction rates and has little impact on criminal drug trafficking organizations.
"No to every type of drug use, it is as simple as that," the pope said to an audience of 450 representatives of national and international drug enforcement agencies. "Let me say this in the clearest terms possible: The problem of drug use is not going to be solved with drugs," he added.
Attempts to deal with the use of drugs by legalizing them are not a solution, "but rather a veiled means of surrendering to the phenomenon," Pope Francis said.
In December 2013, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila posted on the Denver Catholic Register's website an essay by E. Christian Brugger, a moral theologian at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.
Brugger discussed some of the legalization issues, including a long list of negatives associated with pot smoking, especially for teens.
"Moral psychology indisputably shows that desire arises from the senses: from seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting and feeling," Brugger wrote. "Children, especially adolescents, who see their peers, their neighbors, or worse, their parents smoking pot, who smell the distinctly sweet odor, who hear about the 'merits of getting high,' are much more likely to desire it, try it and become users."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that "the use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law."