The pubic is being asked to decide whether to legalize marijuana. It is a decision that will have extreme public health and safety consequences in both the short and long term. Yet, the overwhelming scientific evidence of the harms associated with marijuana use are there, but largely. Many voters have been misinformed by an industry that has cast marijuana as a harmless, even therapeutic herb. A survey of media stories about marijuana showed that less than 3% address the harms. A Google search of marijuana will bring up almost exclusively sites that promote marijuana.
The marijuana of today comes in numerous forms; smoked, vaporized, butters, waxes, oils, and edibles. What they all have in common is their THC potency (THC is the psychoactive, intoxicating and addictive cannabinoid in marijuana) which is 10-40x greater than the marijuana of the 1960’s. Today’s marijuana has been genetically engineered to maximize THC and minimize CBD (the non-psychoactive, non-intoxicating, non-addictive; cannabinoid with potentially therapeutic value).
Marijuana’s associated health risks include, but are not limited to:
- Addiction – More Americans are addicted to marijuana than any other drug, including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and the non-medical use of prescription drugs (R.L. Dupont). For young people with developing brains, one in six will develop addiction. Fifty percent of regular users will become addicted.
- Marijuana’s THC is harmful to the brains of children impacting I.Q, learning and memory
- Marijuana smoke contains carcinogens , as well as 70% more cancer-causing tars than tobacco (Denissenko MF et al) and impairs the immune system (NIH).
- Impairs mental health (increasing the risks for psychotic disorders, hallucinations, anxiety, impaired judgement, social withdrawal, impaired motor coordination, spatial reasoning, memory deficit, and paranoia (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)
- Increases amotivational syndrome, depression, and suicide
- Gateway to other drugs - Marijuana's THC primes the brain to like opioids, increases the risk of opioid addiction 4x, and puts children at risk before conception, during pregnancy, and adolescence.
- Fetal risk – Marijuana using mothers deliver babies with lower birth weights and a higher incidence of birth defects and making them more susceptible to addiction later in life.
Marijuana legalization experiments in Colorado and Washington have resulted in increased risks to public safety:
- Marijuana impaired driving: The Automobile Association of American reports that fatal car crashes related to marijuana use doubled in Washington less than a year after legalization and that traffic related marijuana deaths in Colorado increased 48% after legalization.
- Workplace safety and industrial accidents – The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes marijuana impairs attentiveness, motor coordination, and reaction time, as well as the perception of time, space, and speed.
- Crime – The Colorado Bureau of Investigations reports statewide homicides in 2015 rose 14.7% over the previous year. In Aurora, Colorado, the homicide rate more than doubled after 2014. Denver’s District Attorney reported that every crime type in every community in Denver increased.
- The underground or illegal market, which legalization was promised to cripple or eliminate remains robust. The Denver Police Department must now deal with a 900% increase in unlawful cultivation and butane hash oil manufacturing and a 99% increase in unlawful marijuana and marijuana concentration distribution. Illegal marijuana seizures by Denver police increased 3,424% on average per case (from an average of 162 lbs. to 5,724 lbs.--about 6.8 million joints per case). Denver’s unlawful public marijuana consumption citations increased over 300% per year since legalization. Denver police resources are having to be redirected to marijuana-related crimes including murders, robberies, and home invasions.
What about the promises of increased tax revenues?
Over 40% of Colorado marijuana is untaxed. The black market is stronger than ever, easily hiding alongside the legal market. Historically, the purpose of taxes on potentially addictive and/or harmful products like tobacco and alcohol were to deter use, not increase revenue. More importantly, like the taxes on marijuana will not compensate for the increased addiction, motor vehicle injuries and deaths, child abuse and neglect, crime, academic failures, workplace injuries, mental health burdens, suicides, emergency room visits, poisonings, environmental destruction, butane hash oil explosions, drug trafficking, etc.
Is legalization inevitable?
Many people have been told repeatedly that legalization is inevitable. What they rarely hear about are the increasingly frequent legalization defeats. Most of those living outside Ohio are unaware that marijuana legalization was defeated by a wide margin (65:35) in November 2015. And Ohio has more residents than Colorado and Oregon combined. Although California voters decriminalized marijuana in 1996, providing an affirmative defense for seriously ill people arrested for possession, they never legalized marijuana as a medicine. Over 60% of voters in eight California city elections defeated industry efforts to establish medi-pot retail sales. In Colorado, over 85 cities and counties have bans on marijuana retailers.
Why are we even considering putting our most precious resource, our children, at risk by legalizing a harmful and addictive drug? Shouldn’t we instead be focusing on preventing the initiation and use of harmful drugs? Shouldn’t we want to protect the health and safety of our citizens and our environment? Will any amount of tax revenue compensate for the life of a young person who becomes addicted, schizophrenic, or commits suicide? Of a family killed by an individual who chose to drive while high? The most serious problem with legalizing marijuana is the example we would be setting for our young people.
Legalization doesn't just ignore sound public health policy and federal law, it undermines both. As a society we do not have the right to expose the public to harm for political or financial gain. To progress as a nation will take an informed, educated, sober ,and productive workforce, not one under the influence.