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OUR VIEW: Pot will only add to tribe's problems

For more than a century, alcohol was illegal on the Pine Ridge Reservation, located in the southwest corner of South Dakota. For most of those years, people of that reservation have fought a difficult battle against alcoholism, and also against alcohol sellers in nearby towns that aren't on the reservation who were making fortunes by selling beer to reservation residents.

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Then, in August, that all changed. The alcohol ban that had been in place for most of the reservation's 124-year history was lifted.

We don't argue that alcohol should or shouldn't have been legal all along on the reservation. We only note the long, hard fight on the reservation regarding alcohol sales and, especially, alcohol abuse.

Now, members of the governing council are considering legalizing marijuana on the reservation. The tribe's business development committee gave approval last week, and the full council could put it to a public vote.

One year ago, the sale of alcohol was prohibited on the reservation. Now, the reservation is just a step or two away from legalizing marijuana use.

We do not understand the constant urge to legalize pot.

We believe it is a gateway drug. A 2003 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that people who use cannabis by age 17 had odds of other drug use, alcohol dependence and drug abuse/dependence that were 2.1 to 5.2 times higher than those who did not.

We believe it impairs drivers. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, in 2005, stated that "marijuana affects many skills required for safe driving: alertness, the ability to concentrate, coordination and reaction time."

We don't believe that its medicinal powers are any greater than existing, legal products. The American Medical Association asserts that there are more effective and better treatments for pain than marijuana.

The Pine Ridge Reservation's interest in legalizing marijuana is puzzling to us, and especially considering the many social troubles that exist on that reservation and others. Drug use already is a plague on reservations, and introducing pot as a legal product seems detrimental to solving these existing woes.