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Editorial: Steep road ahead could get even higher

A 21-year-old UW-River Falls student is busted off campus for marijuana with intent to distribute and drug paraphernalia possession. Allegedly in his rental house is a designated smoke room with a sign saying “Drug Zone.” In his fridge there’s a plastic container with the student’s own recipe for marijuana-laced brownies.

A 33-year-old Hammond man is taken into custody for marijuana and drug paraphernalia possession after midnight in the parking lot of the downtown Holiday store. He and another man work on a car with its hood up. Because of suspicious behavior, officers poke around and later summon a county deputy’s dog to assist in the drug search. The illegal stash is allegedly found in the man’s pocket and a backpack.

On a recent Saturday night a call comes from a tenant complaining that his apartment building at 1018 S. Main Street reeks of marijuana. Officers sniff out the hallway until their noses lead them to a door where the odor seems to emanate. Inside the odor’s even stronger. A woman opening the door tries to close it on officers. Eventually a 25-year-old male tenant takes responsibility for the marijuana related items allegedly found in the living room. Due to a past drug conviction, the case is sent to the district attorney to prosecute.

River Falls and UWRF police along with county deputies — not to mention our municipal judge and judges in St. Croix and Pierce counties — routinely deal with these kinds of incidents. Yet we can’t help but wonder if marijuana caseloads will skyrocket as other states legalize marijuana use.

Colorado was the first. There, adults 21 and older can grow up to six marijuana plants and possess up to an ounce. Small amounts of pot are sold and taxed at state-licensed retail stores. Consumption is permitted in a manner similar to alcohol with equivalent offenses for driving while high (impaired).

Washington will have a similar system for legalized marijuana use and sales. Several other states are ready to join. Many already have legalized the use of marijuana as a painkiller for patients with debilitating ailments and diseases. Legislation in Minnesota, said to have bipartisan support, would make marijuana available to those with conditions ranging from cancer and glaucoma to AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder, and could be an option for those with severe pain, nausea or seizures.

Where will it all end? Does the acceptance of legalized medical marijuana slide into eventual acceptance of recreational marijuana?

California Gov. Jerry Brown, a liberal politician from the 1970s and a former Democrat presidential candidate, isn’t sold on recreational marijuana even though his state legalized medical marijuana long ago in 1996.

Brown said, in effect, that California might lose its competitive edge if too many of its citizens got stoned. He said he will see how the Colorado and Washington experiments go before deciding if California will follow suit.

On NBC’s Meet the Press, Brown said: “The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together…The problem with anything, a certain amount is OK. But there is a tendency to go to extremes. And if all of a sudden, if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”

That brings us back to Wisconsin and River Falls. How do our schools (and parents) keep teaching and warning children and youth about healthy choices and dangerous drug use? How do our police and judges keep enforcing drug laws when tolerance for a major drug like marijuana is reaching an all-time high in many parts of the country?

As this tolerance and acceptance grows and spreads, there will be pressure felt at local and state levels to somehow respond. Unfortunately, this drug dilemma is a work in progress. There is no longer a consensus, which means no immediate solution.