Opponents in Athens mayoral race agree on legalizing marijuana
by Don McKee
March 21, 2014 01:04 AM | 1580 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Don McKee
Don McKee
Taking a pro-marijuana use position in a Georgia election would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. And the idea of opposing candidates agreeing on it would have been unimaginable.

But it’s happening in the race for mayor of Athens-Clarke County. Both incumbent Nancy Denson and her challenger in the May 20 nonpartisan election, Tim Denson (not related), favor decriminalizing (legalizing) marijuana use and possession.

Mayor Denson, a UGA graduate, grandmother and lifelong Democrat, for the first time took a pro-marijuana stance last Wednesday at a debate sponsored by Young Democrats of the University of Georgia on the UGA campus, the Athens Banner-Herald reported. Dozens of students were there, along with a few townspeople.

“I’d like to see small amounts of marijuana decriminalized,” the mayor said. Possessing small amounts for personal use shouldn’t “create a criminal record that follows someone for the rest of their life,” she said.

Opponent Tim Denson, a black-bearded, young, self-described progressive and Occupy Athens activist, already favored decriminalizing the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. At the debate, he repeated his call for at least “deprioritizing marijuana” partly because charges related to pot tend to affect minorities more than other people.

It’s not surprising that the Occupy Athens activist favors legalizing pot. But for Mayor Denson, her conversion to pro-pot smacks of pandering to potential or active smokers, particularly students at UGA. It’s a shame. She should know better, notwithstanding President Obama’s downplaying the risks of pot smoking. A couple of months ago, he told New Yorker magazine he viewed marijuana as “not very different” from cigarettes, adding: “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Despite the president’s attitude and the move to spread legalized marijuana beyond Colorado and Washington, a study by the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health released in June 2013 showed a connection between student use of marijuana and problems with academic retention and performance. The study of 1,200 college freshmen for 10 years found substance use, “especially marijuana use,” contributed to students “skipping more classes, spending less time studying, earning lower grades, dropping out of college and being unemployed after college.”

Another key finding was that early chronic use of pot can lower a person’s IQ by as much as eight points. The study found that after controlling for variables including demographics, high school GPA and personality, heavy users smoking more than 15 times monthly were twice as likely than minimal users to experience “discontinuous enrollment.” Even those who smoked only about two times a month were 66 percent more likely than minimal users to be “discontinuously enrolled.”

Amelia Arria, director of the university Center on Youth Adult Health and Development, said on average, marijuana “increases your risk of having academic problems.” She said, “I don’t think people are really putting this together with the possible effect it could have on long term success. It’s something people really need to consider.”

And especially the mayor of Athens, home of UGA.

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