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Marijuana policy: It's your fight (Part 3)

February 20, 2014
by Steven Millette
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Part 3 of 4
Steven Millette

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Four leaders who in recent months have been active in the effort to oppose marijuana legalization initiatives have co-authored a call to action for the treatment and recovery community. We present this article in sections authored by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy; Project SAM co-founder Kevin Sabet, PhD; CeDAR executive director Steven Millette, and CeDAR business development manager Ben Cort.)

 

A treatment center steps up

Two of us are affiliated with CeDAR—The Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation at the University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus, a major academic medical center. We find it important both to have a position on the legalization of marijuana and to understand the impact legalization will have on our center, our hospital, our community and our state. I find the latter must inform the former.

Our position as a healthcare organization must be based on the science that tells us what we could and should expect to be the impact of the legalization of marijuana. There is a lot at stake relative to the health and welfare of our patients, families, community and society, especially our youth and other vulnerable populations such as those in or seeking recovery from substance use and mental health disorders. While the politics and policy issues are complex, the impact of marijuana on our constituencies is fairly clear. Increased access to marijuana will harm our society in the form of increased addiction and mental health problems, as well as a significant increase in associated morbidity and mortality.

CeDAR enjoys a unique position in the field as a nationally recognized treatment program embedded in a major academic medical center.  In this position, we see the opportunity to provide exceptional, state-of-the-science care while pursuing other elements of our mission: learning and discovery. We understand that our behavioral health program assumes a position within the larger healthcare system and we work to optimize integration within this system in order to maximize our ability to fulfill our mission.

We understand that addiction and mental health disorders manifest along a continuum. Many people experience problems with alcohol or other drugs in varying levels of severity. Many experience problems with substances in transient or intermittent forms such as college binge drinking, but for many the problems manifest as chronic, persistent and very severe conditions. We operate from the premise that these chronic conditions are best addressed in a coordinated, interdisciplinary, recovery-oriented system of care. We also know that substance use and mental health conditions manifest in less severe or non-chronic forms and that education, early detection and early intervention work to reduce the likelihood that the disorder will develop to more severe levels. This is the context from which we articulate and define our position against the legalization of marijuana and align with the position put forth by the organization SAM.

SAM applies a science-based approach that supports reasonable approaches to addressing the problems inherent in the criminalization of substance use, while informing the dialogue around broader public policy issues.

It is CeDAR’s position that smoked marijuana is not medicine and that the use of cannabis for recreational use is harmful.

The data tell us that in this country the use of marijuana is trending up. When drug use for adolescents and young adults goes up, so does the relative level of harm caused by its use, including addiction, adverse developmental effects, mental illness, lower academic performance, associated physical problems, driving under the influence, lower quality-of-life outcomes and poor job performance. Additionally, there are many issues that should be considered when it comes to pursuing more effective policies related to cannabis use, possession, sale and cultivation. Here is a sample of some issues that should be factored into any debate and should inform public education regarding the decision to legalize or not:1

• In 1979, after 11 states decriminalized marijuana, the United States saw the highest rates of marijuana use in history by teenagers: more than 51% by high school seniors that year.

• Among youths ages 12 to 17, marijuana usage rates are higher in states with medical marijuana laws (8.6%) than in states without such laws (6.9%).

• Residents of states with medical marijuana laws have marijuana abuse/dependence rates almost twice as high as states without such laws.

• Increased use rates lead to higher addiction rates. Marijuana addiction is real and affects about one in nine people who ever start using the drug (a number similar to alcohol). If one starts using marijuana in adolescence, addiction rates jump to one in six users.

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That article had me laughing all the way through it. Thanks for the comedy, you livened up my work day during my lunch break. I like how many times the author had to point out that they take a "scientific" approach. I also enjoy the LAME duck comparisons of Cannabis to Alcohol and other HARD drugs. I really got a good laugh out of the propaganda and scare tactics. What rip-offs! Lifting material straight from the Governments master piece in 1936, "Reefer Madness." Dark tales of psychosis and schizophrenia from the use of Cannabis. Next you'll tell me I will be growing breasts like a female from using Cannabis. I'll never forget that scare tactic, reading that in our school text books. 20 years later at 42, NO BREASTS! I am kind of disappointed though, it might of been fun. After more than 20 years of using Cannabis, I am still a professional Network Analyst for a major fortune 500 company, I am under 10 % body fat, athletic, lift weights 3 to 4 times a week, can run a 1.5 mile in about 12-13 min. No child should be able to use Cannabis just as it is with Alcohol but no adult should have to face penalties for using Cannabis. I enjoy it after a long day's work and a workout. After work, I work out at the gym, come home make a nice meal, sit down take a few tokes, watch a movie/TV and off to bed by 9:30 pm for a nice relaxed sleep. Wow, DANGER WILL ROBINSON, DANGER.

No, not really. Just more govt BS trying to tell us how to live our lives.

A statistician would ask how are the states with MMLs doing? Are they seeing a slippery slope to more use? We have lots data more recent and more to the point than snips selected from 1970s-1980s data.

The answer is that the first 16 states to legalize medical cannabis did quite well, as compared to states that did not legalize. In the first year of legalization, traffic fatality rate is down, suicide rate is down, beer consumption is down and, most important, teen use is unchanged ... all as compared to the states that did not legalize. The data is contained in studies found by searching on these titles:

Medical Marijuana Laws, Traffic Fatalities, and Alcohol Consumption
High on Life? Medical Marijuana Laws and Suicide
Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use

Safe to say that the sky has not fallen.

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