On Friday, I shared some thoughts on the current debate surrounding marijuana legalization in Maryland. Without surprise, many pot advocates and enthusiasts were none too happy to read my questioning of their dogma. Many repeated the arguments rebutted in the piece and angrily dismissed any wisdom in the current prohibitions on pot use. Many readers, including physicians and elected officials, also wrote me to thank me for making common sense arguments against the drug legalization movement.
A few of the critics of my piece insisted that marijuana was an inert, organic plant. This view was embodied in one particular pearl of wisdom from the comments section "God made marijuana. Man made alcohol." Obviously, in the limited space of an op-ed focused on the larger arguments for legalization there was little opportunity to more fully chronicle the harms of marijuana and its legalization.
So, let me provide some more information on the harms of marijuana. I know the pot fans who sent me clips of Willie Nelson concerts will not be persuaded but for those with a more open, and fully functioning, mind please consider the following.
Legalization will lead to expanded use, including use among teens.
Drug legalization has been attempted elsewhere with foreseeable results in increased use. According to a 2004 report from the Dutch Health, Welfare, and Sports Ministry, marijuana legalization led to a near tripling of consumption among 18- to 20-year-olds. This increased led to the Netherlands revising its drug laws to severely regulate access to pot. In Canada, marijuana use by teenagers reached a 25-year peak in the wake of an aggressive decriminalization movement. The Ottawa Citizen reported that the Canadian government released a report showing that marijuana smoking among teens was "at levels that we haven't seen since the late '70s when rates reached their peak” reversing a trend toward lower use during the ‘80s.
Time will tell if legalization in other states will buck this trend but, as the Denver Post reports, legalization in Colorado has already led to a disturbing increase in pot possession in state schools. As noted in this article, marijuana is the only drug showing a trend toward increased use among teens in the United States.
Smoked marijuana has harmful health effects.
God given or not, smoked marijuana is harmful to those who consume it. The medical journal the Lancet reported in 2009 that marijuana use directly affects the parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning, attention and reaction time and these effects can last up to 28 days after abstinence from use. The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences reported that marijuana affects the parts of the brain which regulate planning for complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making and social behavior.
In addition to the brain, the Lancet also reported that marijuana use can cause an increase in the risk of a heart attack more than fourfold in the hour after use, and it can provoke chest pain in patients with heart disease. Research from the Archives of Internal Medicine has shown marijuana smoke contains carcinogens that can be irritants to the lungs, resulting in greater prevalence of bronchitis, cough and phlegm production. Marijuana smoke contains 50-70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke, as reported by the American Lung Association.
Perhaps most disturbing are the links between marijuana and mental illness, particularly schizophrenia. The Lancet reported in 2007 that "There was an increased risk of any psychotic outcome in individuals who had ever used cannabis…with greater risk in people who used cannabis most frequently. There is now sufficient evidence to warn young people that using cannabis could increase their risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life."
This is just the tip of the iceberg of the medical literature documenting the harms of smoked marijuana.
Legalization is not the only option.
Groups like Project Sam oppose legalization of marijuana but advocate for legal reforms which address many of the abuses cited by legalization advocates. These include adjusting penalties for marijuana possession and distribution, apply smoking limitations to both tobacco and marijuana and reforming police policies and techniques. While these proposals may not be acceptable or sufficient, they clearly demonstrate that legalization is not the only alternative to the current drug prohibition regime.--Greg Kline is a co-founder and contributing editor for Red Maryland, which has strived to be the premier blog and radio network of conservative and Republican politics and ideas in the free state since 2007. A Maryland attorney, Greg was part of the legal team that defeated the General Assembly's effort to fire the Public Service Commission in 2006. He is a former Republican candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates and for chairman of the Maryland Republican Party. His Red Maryland posts appear here regularly.