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Speed Limit 

Kudos to Gov. Huntsman for giving methamphetamine addiction the attention it deserves.

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Here are some facts about U.S. drug enforcement law, and illegal drugs, you may or may not be aware of:

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Despite the fact that it’s darned hard on your lungs compared to mainstream tobacco, marijuana’s toxicity is less than half that of heroin or cocaine. Despite the fact that millions of baby boomers have inhaled marijuana’s mind-altering active chemicals, these same people are hardly seeking treatment for addiction. Although psychologically addictive'along with television, desserts and other items offered legally in our society'the evidence that marijuana poses any physiological addictive threat is scant at best. In fact, there’s strong evidence it’s effective in treating cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and multiple sclerosis. How curious, then, that the Federal Drug Administration licensed a drug called Marinol that mimics marijuana’s medicinal effects, even as it prohibits any medical testing of marijuana’s benefits. Even the UK’s straight-laced Economist magazine chimed in as of late. “Marijuana is medically useful, whether politicians like it or not,” it wrote.

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It gets far stranger. Under the dictates of the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana remains on the federal list of hard-core Schedule 1 drugs, right up there with heroin and LSD. Incredibly, our government believes cocaine, a far more toxic substance than marijuana, is somehow less addictive than the old Mary Jane. So they place Freud’s friendly white powder, which is also deemed to have “accepted medical use in treatment” by the way, next to good old amphetamine on Schedule 2.

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You got that right, folks. Our government believes marijuana’s more addictive, more toxic, and therefore more worthy of our fear and attention than either cocaine or methamphetamine. It makes you wonder who, exactly, is on drugs.

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Now, this isn’t a column espousing the legalization or use of marijuana. I’m not out to see American families sharing bong hits round the fireplace and Old Glory woven in hemp. No, this column concerns the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s ludicrous, disproportional attention given to eradicating marijuana use when it should instead combat the most horrific illegal drug now sinking its teeth and claws into our nation’s populace. That drug is, of course, methamphetamine.

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For better or for worse, marijuana use among millions of Americans is a permanent fixture. Just how huge is the market? Try $35.8 billion huge, according to one marijuana public policy analyst. It outstrips the markets for corn, soybeans and hay. People smoke it at parties, laugh about tripping over the carpet, then binge on munchies. No one should drive under its influence, and it might kill any ambition your child had of becoming valedictorian, but no one can deny that legions of Jamaican musicians have written some amazing reggae and dub tunes between tokes.

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Then there’s methamphetamine, a drug so powerful it causes psychotic hallucinations, high-blood pressure, paralytic depression, kidney disorders, malnutrition, liver and brain damage. Used long enough, it drains calcium from the human body at such a rate that users crush whole teeth chewing white bread. Chemicals used to produce it are toxic enough to make homes in which it’s manufactured inhabitable.

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It’s estimated that people addicted to this poison need at least 18 months of steady treatment to extricate themselves from its grips. Even then, some counselors, held in thrall to the drug’s addictive powers, estimate that only one out of every 100 meth users ever kicks the habit completely. Its ability to destroy the brain’s pleasure center of neurotransmitters is so thorough and ravaging, some users lose the ability to enjoy a good meal, smile upon greeting a friend or appreciate a good book.

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Along with Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas, Utah ranks among one of 18 states where meth treatment rates are higher than the national average, according to a report issued this year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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Say the word “meth addict” and the image of an aging, middle-age biker or truck driver usually comes to mind. It’s no accident, however, that a young local filmmaker recently made her entry into the 2007 Sundance Film Festival with a 22-minute documentary about Utah mothers struggling with methamphetamine addiction. According to figures from the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, women, two thirds of them with children, make up 80 percent of the state’s meth rehab patients. In Nebraska, it’s estimated that half of the 6,000 children in that state’s Foster Care system are due to the meth addiction of their mothers.

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The tragedy of meth abuse, then, is that this fiercest and most dangerous of all illegal drugs reaches into the most vulnerable, and fastest-growing, demographic of our society'that of single mothers fending for themselves. Meth gives them the energy needed to care for a family, with the added “benefit” of rapid weight loss'until the entire show comes crashing down.

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Maybe it’s the benefit of a generous budget surplus that gives him the option, but Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and his wife should be commended for giving this true drug problem the attention it’s long warranted. With $5.1 million annually to place women in meth treatment programs, along with $2 million for a new statewide meth awareness program, this is hopefully the start of a permanent trend. Huntsman’s proposal is already far more generous and rational than the federal government’s, which portions a paltry $25 million for meth abuse recovery services against a mammoth, $2.4 billion apportioned to the DEA, most of which, we can be certain, will be used to prevent marijuana from making its way to the frat party instead of helping single mothers survive.

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