ABC13 Special Report: Is Virginia Going to Pot? Part Three

Danville, VA - Headline after headline, marijuana legalization has become front page news across the country, but not all news is good news.Captain Dennis Haley has been a police officer for more than 20 years. In that time, he says he's seen the dark side of marijuana use firsthand."I have dealt with people under the influence of marijuana who had no clue where they were. In circumstances like that, for their own safety, we'd be required to take them into custody, " Haley said.Haley says the effects of marijuana can far surpass a state of relaxation - sometimes giving users an altered sense of reality, and drug abuse preventionists say the effects can be especially dangerous for kids."With a hallucinogenic drug, you don't know what you're going to do, how you're going to respond, what you're going to see, so you may do things you would not normally do, " said Prevention Program Manager Stephanie Martin. Just in the last few weeks, the community was shaken by the results of an investigation into the death of Lynchburg teen Jamisha Gilbert.Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Doucette believes marijuana - the one foreign substance found in her body - played a role in her death."Her mental state on the night of her disappearance, combined with the effects of smoking marijuana and the trauma of being involved in a motor vehicle accident seemed to have pushed her over an edge, " Doucette said, but how can something that advocates say potentially offers healing properties to some people, be potentially deadly to others?"We understand there's risk, especially for younger folks, " said Virginia NORML Policy Director Ed McCan.According to McCan, while high levels of THC may be too much for some users, legalization could actually curb the amount of marijuana that falls into the wrong hands."The evidence shows that when substances are regulated and put behind a counter with an ID check, adolescents are less likely to use it," McCan said.According to the ACLU, taking away the criminal element for consenting adults could save tens of millions in tax dollars that are currently being used to arrest and prosecute possession offenders.However, police say a black market would likely still exist - providing easily accessible, unregulated cannabis for anyone searching for it."After Prohibition ended, there were still nip joints, there is still bootleg. There's always going to be people who are looking for something that's illegal, " said Haley.While lobbying for legalization - right in our area - McCan has collected hundreds of signatures from people saying they want to the laws change, but some worry that may open the door for other drugs."It's a slippery slope. When that becomes the normal state that a lot of people are using a particular drug, then what makes this drug any different than something else?" said Martin, and several medical organizations - including the American Cancer Association - have chosen not to back medical marijuana use, despite anecdotal evidence that it may work."If they don't think this is a good thing for the disease they are fighting to cure, I definitely can't promote that if they can't promote that," Martin said. Until more research can be done, Martin hopes people will consider all of the risks before taking that first hit.