The Green Mistake

Trends of leisure activities have certainly changed in this country over the years. And, generally speaking, it’s not the government’s job to tell you what you’re allowed to do for fun. People argue all day about the line between true freedom and government rules and regulations. And the best way we can think about this is to hope that our legislators on Capitol Hill are constantly thinking about the well-being of our people and the health of our nation. This short intro truly sums up a key issue on the floor of Congress. Currently, about 20 pieces of legislation have been drafted and introduced by veteran senators and presidential candidates such as Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) to legalize marijuana across this entire nation. This is a significant time in our country as 33 states have allowed for medical marijuana and 10 states have legalized recreational marijuana. The question of whether we become like Canada or stay away like Sweden has become a hot topic in the 2020 race for the presidency.

So, I want to talk about marijuana and give you the facts from scientific research that will either assure you of your beliefs or clear up some myths about the most commonly used illicit drug in America. I will only give you numbers that have come from reputable, peer-reviewed journals, which are products of years of painstaking research. I’ve had the marijuana debate with several people, and the proponents of marijuana legalization make 3 key arguments, each of which I want to address:

  1. Marijuana is not that bad for you, and it’s safer than alcohol.
  2. In states that marijuana has been legalized, marijuana usage, alcohol usage, and opioid usage have all gone down.
  3. Marijuana can be taxed and will provide great economic benefits to our country.

When comparing the effects of marijuana and alcohol on the body, it’s important to note that these drugs affect the body in different ways, and the amount of research done on alcohol far outweighs marijuana. You’ve probably already heard a lot about the negative effects of alcohol and the cognitive impairment it brings along, but what exactly does marijuana do to your body? Marijuana has been linked to some types of cancer (and cancer in offspring), chronic cough, cognitive impairments (in learning, memory, and attention), impairments in academic achievement, and development of schizophrenia. Scary, right? Well, what’s scarier is that in states that have legalized marijuana such as Washington, 8th grade and 10th grade kids perceive marijuana as less harmful and their marijuana usage has increased compared to pre-legalization. With all the country’s debate, kids don’t see marijuana as very dangerous, particularly because 10 states have legalized it.

I’ve heard numerous people say that marijuana helps them calm down, and this is supported by research, but only in the short term. Studies describing long term effects clearly state that marijuana is associated with anxiety, depression, poorer sleep quality, and organ damage. The few studies comparing the harmfulness of marijuana to alcohol have shown that marijuana is more neurotoxic while alcohol has greater negative effects on the liver. It is important to note that there is a consensus on the negative effects of alcohol on the health of the American people; however, the prevalence of alcohol usage makes banning the drug impossible. But, it’s not too late to fight marijuana. Instead of adding another addictive drug to the market, wouldn’t we want to keep it off?

And this brings the discussion to the next point made by proponents, which is that marijuana legalization leads to reductions in marijuana, alcohol, and opioid usage. Looking at the numbers, this simply is not true. Statistics from states that have legalized marijuana (even if it’s just medical marijuana) show that marijuana usage goes up after legalization. Furthermore, 22% of medical marijuana users have admitted to selling their drug to non-medical users! It’s a clear picture: greater availability leads to greater usage. Now, after marijuana was legalized in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, a few articles came out saying that alcohol sales in the state would be hurt because people will be substituting marijuana for alcohol. Lawmakers for marijuana legalization treasured these initial numbers and predictions…. until the Distilled Spirits Council came out and said that the legalization of marijuana in these states had absolutely no negative effect on alcohol sales. In actuality, the Distilled Spirits Council reported that spirit sales have increased by 4% in Oregon, 5% in Washington, and 8% in Colorado since each state’s respective legalization date. This data, in addition to studies tracking adolescents over several years, have shown that alcohol and marijuana are not substitutes, but rather they are complements in deteriorating health.

Now, for opioids. So, opioid usage has gone down since recreational marijuana was legalized in 10 states. Big win for marijuana lovers? Well, not quite. During the same time that recreational marijuana was being legalized in some states, our nation began tackling the opioid crisis.

Legislators and our president realized that tens of thousands of people were dying from opioid overdoses. To tackle the problem, strict legislation was passed, in tandem with new rules by the CDC, to limit the amount of opioids prescribed to patients by physicians. This time, less availability led to less usage. Reductions in opioid usage has been a win for our nation, but we must take caution before we attribute that positive outcome to the legalization of a different harmful substance.

Lastly, we can talk about money. America is in a debt crisis. Our nation’s debt has exceeded $22 trillion, and we don’t have a bipartisan plan to pay off our debts. Is the legalization and taxation of marijuana the solution? The states that have legalized marijuana have raised over a billion dollars in tax revenue, but the reality is that much greater costs are being incurred. Health costs of marijuana use have already been estimated to be $4.50 for every dollar raised in tax revenue, and the costs associated with federal legalization are unknown. With all of this in mind, I encourage you to take an active role in politics by choosing candidates based on their views regarding issues such as marijuana that could greatly affect the well-being of our nation.

Sources:

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2016 Jan;40(1):33-46. doi: 10.1111/acer.12942. Epub 2015 Dec 21.

Am J Psychiatry. 2019 Feb 1;176(2):98-106. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.18020202. Epub 2018 Oct 3

Ann Epidemiol. 2017 May;27(5):342-347.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2017.05.003. Epub 2017 May 10.

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2017 Jan 1;170:181-188. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2016.10.025. Epub 2016 Oct 26.

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2017 Oct;81:53-58. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2017.07.012. Epub 2017 Jul 29.

JAMA Pediatr. 2017 Feb 1;171(2):142-149. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.3624.

JAMA Psychiatry. 2018 Jun 1;75(6):585-595. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.0335.

Wilkinson S. T. (2013). Medical and recreational marijuana: commentary and review of the literature. Missouri medicine110(6), 524–528.