Dear Straight Talk: I read that you support marijuana legalization (March 25) and was surprised that someone as educated as you is not aware of the dangers of this drug. I have never used the drug, but it is a killer. The idea that it doesn’t lead to worse addiction is not true. There are thousands of stories on the Internet of destroyed lives. I had first-hand experience in Vietnam. Fellow soldiers who smoked had poorer vision, hearing, and reflexes — and because of this, they died on patrol. Others fried their brains and never were the same. That legalizing it would lead to decline in use is speculative at best. How many lives do we sacrifice with our liberal thinking? — Dick Parsons, San Clemente, CA Dear Dick: I’m sorry for the loss you experienced in Vietnam. If there was ever an advocate for drug-free living, it’s me. All drugs have negative effects on the body and brain, marijuana included, and I support legalization only because I believe strongly that it will lessen use. It will also reduce exposure tremendously to the black market, the true “entrance to the store” for harder drugs. Instead of bickering over your letter, I asked the panel to paint a personal portrait of marijuana use. Read on for what it is like out there. More comments are on our Web site. Lennon, 22, Fair Oaks: I’ve only smoked marijuana eight times. But friends and older adults who smoke socially are successful and fully functioning. The only kid I know affected by marijuana dropped out of school for a while, but he was also drinking profusely and using harder drugs. I believe people with addictions have emotional issues they’re not addressing. Shelby 17, Auburn: I tried weed once and it’s gross and pointless. Legal or not I won’t be using it. A few kids I know use it to relax or sleep better, but most of my friends don’t use. Brie, 17, Ashland, OR: A friend with addiction to harder drugs said marijuana got him started. I’ve heard it hardens the cerebral cortex, making it hard to think. Jessie, 16, Ashland, OR: Probably 60 percent of teenagers at my school use it. A few are constantly “baked” and throwing their lives away, but most just use it socially on the weekends. Most have above average grades and take challenging classes. I don’t think it’s that harmful as I see my peers going to Cal Poly and other competitive colleges. Sawyer, 18, Fair Oaks: Marijuana is like ice cream. I use it when I feel bad or need a reward. I like the sensation. I do feel a bit addicted so I curb my use, just like with dessert. I do think it makes you dumber, and I plan to stop. I have no interest in harder drugs. Weed is natural, I eat and sleep on demand, don’t feel edgy. Clancey, 17, Sacramento: I smoke several times a week and have good GPA and SAT scores. Some stoners seem stoned even when they’re not, but most kids are completely normal between smoking. I don’t feel dumber or slower, but I worry about it. I have an older cousin who smoked a lot when he was young and it seemed to stunt his cerebral development. Steve, 18, Fair Oaks: I don’t like alcohol because I might get sick or do something I won’t remember, but with weed, I’m never out of control. Blaming pot for bad grades is a cop-out. I think older people smoke it to avoid their problems, like the guy I buy it from. I don’t want to be like that. I just like how being stoned feels, everything has deep meaning. I only know a couple of people who went out of control but it was through harder drugs they encountered while buying pot. To ask a question or inquire about being a panelist, visit www.straighttalkforteens.com or write P.O. Box 963 Fair Oaks, CA 95628.