My name is John Guenther and I have been employed in many positions involving work with people impacted by marijuana. I have seen firsthand the destruction this drug causes. If you added up all the reasons for adolescents going to treatment—including alcohol—they would not equal the amount of adolescents going to treatment for just one drug alone, marijuana. Marijuana is a dangerous drug that impacts many tribal communities. There is now a push in our community to manufacture and distribute marijuana. Should we really be that easily influenced? I say we stand up against those who would influence tribal culture. Marijuana is not a harmless herb and it is not a traditional plant. We as NDN people have relied on our natural remedies, not foreign plants. This plant has been mutated with the intention to sell it to more individuals and it has more than doubled in potency. With alcohol, liquor stores are estimated to be in great abundance in minority communities than others at a rate of 7 to 1; it will be the same for marijuana, and I am concerned we will be targeted.
Marijuana is not indigenous to the Americas. Marijuana came from Asia, most believe China; it is not a traditional plant. Some say marijuana is a harmless herb, that it is natural. However, even in its natural state there are approximately 400 chemicals in marijuana that include the same toxins, irritants and carcinogens as cigarettes (source: National Institute on Drug Abuse). The American Lung Association states that smoking Marijuana causes a greater exposure to tar than smoking cigarettes. According to NIDA, the lungs are the first line of defense against disease. Marijuana causes air pockets between the lungs, leading to respiratory concerns such as acute bronchitis; marijuana also causes increased heart rate which leads to heart disease (NIDA). Marijuana also weakens your immune system. Marijuana has a chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which quickly passes to the blood stream and to the brain (NIDA). Marijuana has been shown to actually shrink your brain, and studies show that marijuana smokers have a lower IQ than before they started getting high and suffer from memory loss, and learning issues. The memory loss can last long after the effects of the intoxicant leaves your body. Marijuana affects areas of your frontal cortex that is involved in risky behavior. Most credible mental health studies have linked marijuana to depression and increased anxiety.
According to the Colorado Department of Health, If you are pregnant and you smoke marijuana, you run a high risk of impacting brain development with your unborn baby, as well as significantly reducing the child’s birth weight. Studies have shown that the negative impacts of marijuana can be arrested by abstinence from the drug. The negative impacts of marijuana affect those on medical marijuana as well. This does not mean that there are not some positive impacts of medical marijuana use, but it has exploded beyond medical need. Many believe you can’t become addicted but the science on this shows otherwise. According to NIDA, marijuana is addictive, especially when you start to use it in your teens. Students who use marijuana produce less quality work in school, and people who have tried marijuana have a higher risk of trying other illegal drugs.
States that believed they can tax and gain revenues are finding that the non-taxable medical usage is exploding and taking over the recreational use of marijuana. These states are showing a higher rate of marijuana-caused auto accidents than in other states, as well as more addicted youth. It is estimated that on weekend evenings in Colorado 12% of drivers are impaired by marijuana (Colorado Department of Health).
As a possible cash crop, is this a sovereignty issue? Yes, and I would urge tribes to set up community meetings, and to study this drug very hard prior to allowing this to be grown commercially within our tribal communities. How would you even guard it? Would you have armed guards protecting your crop? There are many deaths due to marijuana growth, and sales; this would be a very dangerous venture. Nationally, marijuana is an illegal drug. Just because the laws are not being enforced does not mean that they will always be unenforced; this trend towards states attempting to pass laws in violation of the Federal law will end. In other words, a new Administration can come in and enforce Federal drug laws. A whole industry that was established will then need to be deconstructed and revenues could be seized as well as items purchased from the revenues. This could get very complicated for our nations and cause a great deal of legal and criminal proceedings.
With heightened acceptance more and more youth are abusing the drug. Eventually drug laws will be enforced and an entire industry will come tumbling down. I urge tribes to take a stand against drugs, let our revenue-making ventures be guided by the principle of the good of our entire tribes, not on the false promise of money. If the Aleuts attempted to start a grow operation, I would stop them. tTese are my people and I will not see them ruined by drugs.
John Guenther is an Aleut from the State of Alaska. He has a Master's of Social Work and has worked in inpatient adolescent treatment for Native American youth, child protection services and law enforcement. John has had a social service/treatment career that spans back to the 1980s.