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Battling Big Marijuana

August 25, 2014
by Charlene Marietti
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Providers in the two states that have legalized marijuana want to put the genie back in the bottle. Data may help.
The National Conference on Addiction Disorders was a natural venue for a forthright discussion about the impact of marijuana use in the two states that have legalized it. Addiction Professional Editor Gary Enos asked four professionals to share their experiences in a panel on August 25 in St. Louis. 
It's still very early for Colorado, which has eight months of experience with legalized use. Even so, it's not going well, reports Steven Millette, LMHC, LAC, executive director of Aurora-based CeDAR/UCH. "It's an odd distinction to be the experimental state. The horse is out of the barn in Colorado, but the data may be able to reverse the trend."
Although the increased use was expected, he says, early results are sobering. "The data reveals that there is a huge problem looming," he says. And there is data to back up his concern. The number of drivers stopped and under the influence has increased and traffic fatalities have doubled since 2007. Crime in Denver has increased nearly 7 percent. School expulsions have increased and more than a quarter of college students are current marijuana users--a rate significantly higher than the national average.

In Washington State, there has been even less time to evaluate impact, but Scott Munson, executive director of Sundown M Ranch in Yakima shares Millette's concerns. Legalization, which was the result of a sophisticated strategy by companies with deep pockets, has taken the form of normalization of marijuana use. "It is already wreaking havoc in the schools and it's having a negative impact on schools and families," he reports. The amount of use has increased exponentially and it's reaching kids and families not reached before.

'Big Marujuana' is like 'Big Tobacco.' They're using the same strategies and tools that have been seen in activities by Big Tobacco. "The strategy is to normalize marijuana use and make it look more safe," says Andrea Grubb Barthwell, Medical Director, Encounter Medical Group, Director of the Two Dreams Facilities, Chicago. "This is is a big, mature industry," she adds, and "terms in the campaigns have been strategically selected to normalize marijuana and they play with our minds by looking at the inconsistencies with alcohol and tobacco. Drug use is not recreational--it's not like snowboarding or soccer."

Although her state has not yet legalized marijuana, Mary Woods, RNC, LADC, MSHS, CEW, WestBridge, Manchester, NH. reports that plenty is being used there. "Most of our parents are old hippies," she notes. They already have their own beliefs about marijuana, but the more science we have behind us, the better. She urges attendees to take a stand and use scientific facts for support.

There has developed a relative perspective that marijuana is harmless, Millette notes. But it's normalization that is harmful. The marketing strategies were effective. Colorado citizens had no idea it is as strong it has been."Hopefully people in other states won't be so nonchalant about the risks from marijuana."



Is there any information regarding the data cited here? I would like to see the "study" and how Mr. Millette came by his numbers. Otherwise, I'm highly suspicious.

Seriously though, where is the data in this article? For example, if there have only been 8 months of marijuana legalization in Colorado to examine, why is a change in DUI rates SINCE 2007 even relevant? Can we say for certain that this doubling has happened within the last 8 months if we're looking at 7 years of data? "Crime in Denver has increased nearly 7 percent." What kind of crime, who's committing these crimes? Were they tested for substances in their system at the time of their arrest? Was there THC present? How about that higher than other states rate of college MJ use. Has it always been that high? Is it higher in the last 8 months?

I'm not suggesting that there may be data that will shed actual light on the consequences of marijuana legalization, but this article doesn't cite any. Worse still, it is attempting to correlate existing (and outdated) data with legalization erroneously. To what end? I would like to believe that, if and when it is actually demonstrated that legalization has led to the negative consequences alluded to in this article, that it would mean more funding for interventions and treatment that actually help people (like harm reduction-focused interventions and education) and increased addiction treatment for those who really need it; but, I can all but guarantee that this will not be the result. What will happen is increased stigmatization of drug users (to which this article is already contributing), increased criminalization and draconian, racist, criminal justice driven policies. How is this good for substance users and their communities?

Addiction professionals would be well served to begin positioning ourselves within a rational, evidence-based, non-hysterical framework for addressing the issue of marijuana legalization. Most of the coverage I see in AP reinforces stigma, fetishizes abstinence, and tows the tiresome, ineffective, and ultimately harmful, drug war line.

I was quite struck by this article:

This is something that MM advocates predicted and it looks like it is coming to pass.

Scott Kellogg, PhD

The goal of this panel was to hear what people on the front lines of treatment for substance abuse are experiencing in the two states that have legalized marijuana for other than medical use. This article was a reported story, meaning that it attributed data points and comments to the appropriate panelists. It is not a researched story.

Marijuana legalization is a topic of high interest with strong opinions. There is sure to be a great deal of data published in the upcoming months that will provide more solid evidence of the marijuana's impact on population health and welfare.

Data points aside, it is impossible to ignore the potential effects on young, developing brains. For me, that is exceedingly worrisome.

Yes, I'm on board with banning adolescent use of marijuana. In fact, we illustrated this in an infographic a few months back:

If we're talking health policy, we also need to look at overall social impact. What about revenue and proceeds from taxes?



Thank you all for your comments. We want to hear from other NCAD attendees about what you thought of this year's marijuana panel session; it will help shape future conference presentations on this much-watched topic.

I must take issue with the comment about Addiction Professional's past coverage of this subject. You will not find another publication serving addiction treatment professionals that has covered the full spectrum of views on marijuana policy more comprehensively. For example, at the 2013 NCAD meeting in Anaheim, a representative from the Drug Policy Alliance made a compelling case for a dramatically different approach from current policy. This year, the two-part print and online series in AP from Colorado treatment professional Marvin Ventrell was one of the most thoughtful pieces of writing we've seen on this subject (;

We approach this issue as we do all others affecting clinicians and programs: welcoming all points of view in an open and relevant dialogue.