Career opportunities provided me the opportunity to spend seventeen years involved with adult corrections and thirteen years working with troubled juveniles and their families. This gateway into criminal and juvenile behavior gave me the opening to see the effects of drug use and abuse. I served as Deputy Warden and Warden for fourteen years at the State Penitentiary during the advent of the courts addressing individuals using and distributing illegal drugs. This experience gives me great concern for the legalization of marijuana, hashish and tetrahydrocannabinols in the State of North Dakota.
First, let me lay out some reported facts that must be considered when North Dakota citizens vote for the legalization of these proposed substances.
· Evidence clearly indicates long term use can lead to addicting 9% of those who use marijuana.
· This proportion increases to 1 in 6 if use starts during one’s teenage years.
· Cessation of heavy marijuana use is difficult and contributes to relapse.
· Prenatal or adolescent exposure can lead to altered brain development, including changes in the connections between neurons, or circuits, in certain brain regions.
· Youthful exposure can lead to earlier-onset and more-severe psychoses, including schizophrenia, for that part of the population with a genetic predisposition to certain mental illnesses.
My experience led me to consider the effects of marijuana on individuals who were committed to the prison system. I would like to relate a few of those experiences to you.
The first experience is about a skilled craftsman who was given a sentence of one year for possession of marijuana. To my recollection he was from the only Judicial District in the state which sentenced individuals for marijuana possession not the distribution. I got to know him shortly after his commitment and continued to have conversations during his year of incarceration. Shortly before his discharge I asked him what the difference was from using pot on a regular basis to being marijuana free for a considerable period. His face lit up and he began describing the difference: “I did not realize that colors were so vivid, they had become dull. I could not identify the inflection in people’s voices and their voice tone seemed flat, and I do not have to have the radio on the highest volume to listen to music.”
After listening to his revelations of his sharpening of senses, I wondered how marijuana usage impairs drivers, people using heavy equipment, medical professionals, any employment that requires mental alertness or acuity. It is a question that every North Dakota citizen should think about before voting “yes” to approve recreational marijuana.
A story related on several occasions was the effect of heavy marijuana usage creating lethargy. As a 30-year-old man who had been convicted of selling marijuana was about to be discharged from prison I asked him what he was going to do for a living. “I have to go find a job.” My immediate impression was good luck. After reading his social history I had noticed he had never worked. He began selling marijuana in high school and remained a low-level dealer throughout his formative years. He was entering the job market without one day of work experience. I encountered other instances of this behavior and concluded habitual use of marijuana creates a lethargy that stymies natural ambition. The question will be who will provide for this group of under prepared individuals that have never experienced work. Will it be North Dakota taxpayers, or will they resort to criminal activity to support their use of marijuana.
Working with juveniles for almost a third of my career I learned how delinquent behaviors developed. There is a concept called “permission giving.” The parent gives permission not verbally but by their actions when viewed by juveniles. Example; The parent comes home from work and announces, “I had a terrible day at work, I need a drink.” This tacitly gives approval to the teenager to use alcohol when they are angry, despondent or upset about an event in their life. It would appear it is the same for the use of marijuana.
When I was Director of a Child Care Facility in North Dakota I had many conversations with the residents and learned about the conditions that brought them to residential care.
One 15-year-old boy described his entry into marijuana use was through his father’s usage. His parents were divorced, his mother lived in ND and his father was on the east coast. His behavior while living with his mother was not good and his mother would call the father and tell him, “I am sending Johnny out to live with you.” His father who was remarried to a lady that had two younger children would meet the flight and take Johnny into their home. It was Johnny’s responsibility to babysit the two younger children. He stated, “My Dad had a bowl of marijuana on his dresser in the bedroom. I started smoking his marijuana out of boredom.” He became dependent on marijuana at an early age which had behavioral effects on his life that brought him into residential care.
The petition for the usage of recreational marijuana describe penalties for individuals under the age of 21 to possess marijuana, or attempting to distribute marijuana, and adding penalties for individuals who distribute marijuana to those under the age of 21.
The penalties stated in the petition appear inadequate to permissiveness in families that condone using marijuana in their home recreationally. The question I ask as of the voters: Does the permission giving concept allow for a more permissive usage of marijuana for children in the home? If this concept holds true, are we creating an ever-expanding generation of marijuana affected adults in the future? These are questions that should be considered for future generations of ND citizens.
As I pursued information from convicted drug offenders I came to realize that there were people in prison who would have never conflicted with the law had not they been using marijuana. A man asked to see me shortly after his transfer to the prison. This tall, good looking young man entered my office and began to explain his incarceration. He and his wife had been smoking marijuana in their apartment one afternoon, located on a lower level of a two-story home. He related that they had sexual relations and then decided to try some LSD. After he ingested the LSD he remembered that the rent was due, and he decided to take the rent payment check up to the eighty-year-old landlady.
For reasons unknown to him, he raped his landlady and was subsequently charged with rape and convicted. He was given a ten-year sentence. As he concluded his story he stated, “I am not a criminal.” I agreed with him. He was a young man whose judgment was affected, and he committed a crime. His impaired decision making inflicted a high cost on his life and he was paying the price of using multiple drugs that devasted his life and future.
The pain in this young man’s face would have anyone ask, “Is it worth legalizing these substances until we know the answers to marijuana usage and its effect on the brain?”
Drug smuggling into the penitentiary was a daily task that confronted us. The demand for marijuana was so great that inmates involved family members, friends, unsuspecting bystanders and even prison employees into this web of drug usage. It causes me to wonder, if it is such a potent drug that causes others to risk the freedom of their family, friends, and individuals who are charged with their care and safety, why would we expand the usage of such a drug in our society?
As a person who has seen the depth of damage from alcohol and drug abuse throughout my career in the prison and residential care systems, I feel compelled to ask my fellow North Dakotans to contemplate these questions: What is the hurry? What is the impending crisis that we would want to add this burden on our hard-working citizens? Why would we authorize a substance that has such potential to harm the present and future generations? I urge you to vote “No” on this measure until all the facts are clearly understood and the ramifications of marijuana, hashish and tetrahydrocannabinols are known.
Winston E. Satran,
former Deputy Warden and Warden of the North Dakota State Penitentiary