• More than two-thirds of treatment admissions involving those under the age of 18 cite marijuana as their primary substance of abuse, more than three times the rate for alcohol and more than twice the rate for all other drugs combined.
• Proponents of legalization often compare marijuana use to prescription drugs, alcohol and tobacco, all of which are regulated. Our nation’s experience with even tightly regulated prescription drugs, such as OxyContin, shows that increased availability leads to increased misuse, abuse and addiction, even when controls are in place.
• Taxes on marijuana would never pay for the increased social costs that would result from more users. Our nation’s experiences with alcohol and tobacco show that for every dollar gained in taxes, we spend $10 on social costs.
• Legalizing marijuana would open the doors to a “gray market,” which would thrive under legalization in order to undercut the legal, taxed market. The criminal market would not disappear under legalization.
• Legalization would not reduce the burden of the criminal justice system—it would make our criminal justice system work overtime. Today, the legal substance alcohol causes more than 2.6 million arrests a year. That is a million more arrests than for all illegal drugs combined. If we legalized and regulated marijuana, there would be a set of new laws around sales restrictions that would need to be enforced, on top of current DWI laws that would have to expand.
This information helps us appreciate the potential harms associated with legalization. In Colorado, it has become quite evident that many of our young people perceive marijuana as harmless. Many of the patients seen in treatment indicate that cannabis was a prominent part of their drug-using history and that obtaining the drug was exceptionally easy. A concern to consider is that when our society “normalizes” and promotes the use of marijuana as harmless recreation, the cultural mores that stigmatize its use diminish. This will lead to significant increases in overall use, in turn leading to greater numbers of young people who develop a substance use disorder and/or are affected by adverse health and social effects.
A large number of well-respected healthcare organizations also express strong reservations about the benefits of medical marijuana and are opposed to legalizing the drug for recreational use. Some of these include the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), the American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP).
SAM takes a science-based and public health approach to education and public policy. It advocates addressing the many problems associated with our current “war on drugs” approach. It also takes the position that legalizing this dangerous drug would not necessarily reduce crime while adding significant burden on our society in the form of increased cannabis-related morbidity and mortality.
A significant part of the CeDAR mission is to promote a “culture of recovery” as an antidote to the harmful impacts of our current “culture of addiction.” We believe our peers in the treatment and recovery community also contribute to creating a culture of recovery, and share the general precepts of the CeDAR mission. It is CeDAR’s hope that our colleagues in the treatment and recovery field will mobilize to oppose legalization trends around the country and offer sound recovery and science-based information for policy makers to consider in order to avoid the potential harm to our society and those we serve. The more unified our voice, the more impact we will have. Adopting and supporting the precepts set forth through Project SAM is one way to accomplish this.
A powerful industry relying on addiction for profit—the legalization industry—is out in full force. We need to band together as a field to push back against the inevitable pain and suffering that will result from a commercial market of marijuana. This is not a time to be timid. Too many lives are on the line.
We need your help. We need the treatment and recovery communities to wake up and realize this is a central issue for them. We are asking all of you to do just that. SAM needs volunteers, resources and organizational partners if we are to win this battle.
On one side there is a money-hungry industry that will stop at nothing to increase addiction. On another are all of us who want to see addiction curbed, families reunited, and lives saved. So let’s heed this call to action. Participate in your own way to have your voices heard above those of the marijuana commercialization industry.
Look to your state affiliates of Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA; www.cadca.org) for guidance on how you can become involved in your states, cities and communities. Join forces with Smart Approaches to Marijuana (learnaboutsam.org) and pay attention to legislative efforts in your states that are promoting the legalization of marijuana. Understand and be conversant in the science about the effects of marijuana on individuals, families and communities, and be prepared to share these issues through your access to various media outlets.
Which side are you on: SAM or the promoters of the massive commercialization of marijuana in our country? Are we aligned to support the “Culture of Recovery” or the “Culture of Addiction”?