SOUTH BERWICK — Reading the recent article “Group backed by medical marijuana growers to push for legalization in Maine” (Nov. 18), with its reference to marijuana coffee houses, gave me shudders. People sitting around stoned reminds me of the 19th-century opium dens in China.

The argument for economic benefits is often used for convincing the public to accept a host of evils, such as casinos, and it’s been used to justify strip clubs. What really galls me are the half-lies, deception and outright untruths that advocates use to lull people into acceptance of a dangerous drug in our state, such as the idea that marijuana is safer than alcohol or the theme of “responsible use.”

Pot is not safer than alcohol. Recent peer-reviewed scientific research shows clearly that marijuana affects the brain, especially in young people, causing a decrease in memory, reaction time, motivation and creativity; that marijuana is addictive to one out of six users, and that it’s even been shown to reduce IQ by a measurable amount among regular users.

Stories coming out of Washington state and Colorado, where marijuana is legal for recreational use, should give pause to advocates: increases in visits to the ER caused by bad reactions, more highway accidents involving marijuana use, pot showing up in candy being consumed by children, increases in pot use by youth and much more.

In one tragic story, Levy Thamba, a 19-year-old Wyoming college student, ingested marijuana in a commercial marijuana cookie, began having hallucinations and jumped to his death from a fourth-story balcony at a Denver hotel. Responding to the event, an industry spokesperson stated that the youth had had more than the recommended serving.

People use pot recreationally because it temporarily makes them high and makes them feel better. It stimulates the brain to produce dopamine, as do other drugs such as cocaine. However, it also destroys neurons and receptors in key areas of the brain that are associated with higher functions such as memory, reasoning, creativity and motivation. The new high-potency “super pot” is up to three times as potent as the older stuff and has been linked to psychotic episodes and even heart attacks.

It is responsible to use this stuff? It is responsible to advocate legalization, knowing that young people – those most liable to suffer permanent damage to their brains – will imitate adult behavior and begin using marijuana or increase their usage, possibly ruining their lives?

There is big money to be made from legalization of pot. Legalization advocates want to give pot a good name and create a better image, and they do this with posters showing an elderly person supposedly benefiting from taking the pot for a serious medical problem.

But, in fact, data illustrates what’s really happening. According to a study, the average medical marijuana user in California is a 32-year-old white male with a history of alcohol and substance abuse and no history of life-threatening illnesses. Eighty-eight percent of these “patients” have tried marijuana before age 18.

Another red herring that advocates are using to push their legalization agenda is that countless people are languishing in prison for pot busts. Not true. In fact, only 0.1 percent of all state prisoners with no prior arrests are behind bars for marijuana possession.

Marijuana is addictive and harmful to brain development, and current trends showing increased use among adolescents are profoundly troubling, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America earlier this year.

Don’t be fooled by the argument of supporters that regulation of the drug will keep the drug out of kids’ hands, she went on. The opposite is happening. As access has expanded for adults, it also has increased for American youth.

She was referring in part to the University of Michigan’s 2013 Monitoring the Future report, which showed that usage is up among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders and that 6.5 percent of high school seniors reported using marijuana daily – up from 2.3 percent in 1993. She also pointed out that legalizing drugs would encourage youth to use them because it reduces the risks of being caught and punished.

If people want to feel good, they should spend time with friends, listen to music, help a neighbor, go to a movie, spend time outdoors, engage in sports, do something creative. These activities are shown to have a positive effect on our brains and a lasting positive impact on our communities and world.

I’m a parent, and I don’t want to see this dangerous substance becoming more available in our communities. We need the creativity of our youth and must guard their futures.

— Special to the Press Herald