Using resources for a greater threat

The Otsego County Sheriff's Office is in the midst of its annual two-week marijuana eradication campaign.

We have no doubt that Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr.'s heart is in the right place, wanting his county to be free of illegal drugs, but we respectfully wonder if we can say the same about his brain when it comes to this enterprise.

With a surge in heroin and prescription drug abuse in our area, any major use of department resources to hunt down marijuana growers makes very little, if no sense at all.

The annual eradication efforts are scheduled in advance, Devlin said, and do not interfere with other drug busts or investigations.

How is that? If the sheriff's office and other agencies are spending two weeks tracking down and arresting marijuana growers, they could be working on the area's much more serious heroin and prescription drug problems.

While it is true that using or selling marijuana is against the law, one day it won't be. There is a rising tide of public opinion for the legalization of pot, and it is only a matter of time until New York joins Colorado and Washington -- where marijuana use is legal -- and California, where it has been decriminalized.

There is no question, however, that heroin and prescription drug abuse are major threats to our youth and to society as a whole.

"We all know we have a huge heroin problem around here," Devlin said. "But we can't forget about other problematic drugs, like marijuana."

But is marijuana really so problematic?

"I consider it a gateway drug," Devlin said.

That theory means that if someone tries marijuana, it is likely to be a "gateway" to trying more-dangerous drugs.

Indeed, a person who smokes marijuana is more than 104 times more likely to use cocaine than a person who never tries pot, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

That could be partly because the seller of illegal marijuana is likely to be the seller of cocaine and heroin, too. That would not be the case if marijuana were legalized. If we are looking for gateway drugs, how about tobacco and alcohol?

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences wrote: "Because it is the most widely used illicit drug, marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug most people encounter. Not surprisingly, most users of other illicit drugs have used marijuana first. In fact, most drug users begin with alcohol and nicotine before marijuana -- usually before they are of legal age. . There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs."

We strongly urge Sheriff Devlin to make 2014 his last annual marijuana eradication effort.

-- The Oneonta Daily Star