Call me crazy. As someone in the business of providing treatment, you’d think I’d want nothing more than to see an influx of business. Legalizing a drug increases consumption thereby increasing the number of people who develop a drug problem, and that leads to more people seeking treatment. Capitalism should tell me this is a great idea. Morality and humanity tell me otherwise.
Now, I’ve written on marijuana legalization before. The barrage of hate that I received might stop most people from doing it again. But I just cannot sit idly by while this issue continues to float around this nation’s great states, jeopardizing public health and our children’s futures.
Hear me on this people: in many respects, I could be considered monetarily motivated to want marijuana legalized! I work for a treatment center that treats addiction to this and other drugs. But my conscience and compassion for people in the depths of addiction prohibit it.
The argument of the pro-pot crowd is that marijuana is harmless, that it’s just a plant and is safer than alcohol. Unfortunately, there are too many holes in this argument, as anyone who’s been paying attention knows.
True, marijuana is made from a plant. While we’re at it, let’s keep in mind that Hemlock, of which the ingestion of small doses can easily result in respiratory collapse and death, is also a plant. But back on topic, a recent study found that the level of THC in marijuana, or tetrahydrocannabinol (marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient) rose from about 4 percent in 1995 to about 12 percent in 2014. Another study found those levels rose more significantly, from 10 percent to 30 percent. As the lead researcher in the former study said, “smoking marijuana with high doses of THC may involve a higher risk of negative health effects, such as psychosis or panic attacks.”
As several experts have pointed out before, this is not your father’s weed. Indeed a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that marijuana causes heart attacks and artery disease, even among the young. Other studies have shown that marijuana use can permanently impair brain development, problem solving, concentration, motivation, and memory. Teens who use marijuana are more likely to engage in delinquent and dangerous behavior, and experience increased risk of schizophrenia and depression, including being three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts. Marijuana-using teens are also more likely to have multiple sexual partners and engage in unsafe sex.
So even if you smoked weed when you were young, you need to acknowledge that we’re talking about a vastly different drug here and have learned a great deal more about its short and long-term effects. With this, there is no debate.
So why else am I opposed to the legalization of marijuana? The Rand Corporation concluded that under legalization, the price of the drug would fall substantially, thereby further increasing consumption. Increased drug use leads to greater societal costs including greater absenteeism and less productivity in our workforce. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs incurs more than $700 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and health care. Employees who test positive for marijuana had 55 percent more industrial accidents and 85 percent more injuries and they had absenteeism rates 75 percent higher than those who tested negative.
Legalized weed creates greater access, more abuse, and greater costs to society. As I said before, those of us in the business of treating addiction might take this as news that our business will be booming. Sadly, it already is and I can’t bear to see it get exponentially worse with legalization of marijuana. I mean, does this country really need another legal intoxicant?
There are an estimated 23 million Americans who need treatment for problems related to drugs or alcohol, but only about 2.5 million people receive it in any given year. This is what we call the treatment gap. So to be clear, I already have my hands full trying to reach the over 20 million people in our country who need but don’t pursue addiction treatment. I don’t need a boom in business with the legalization of marijuana and, in my opinion, the costs are just too high.
Dr. Kevin Sabet, former Senior Advisor for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and co-founder of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), recognized that the marijuana market seems like an attractive target for taxation, and many have compared recent campaigns to legalize it to tactics used by Big Tobacco. One research firm estimated that the marijuana industry is worth roughly $10 billion a year. But these taxes will do little to offset the cost to society. Says Dr. Sabet, “Legal alcohol serves as a good example: The $8 billion in tax revenue generated from that widely used drug does little to offset the nearly $200 billion in social costs attributed to its use.”
And if you still assert that legalizing marijuana for adults is their right, you need only look at two examples of this backfiring amongst our youth. In the 1970s, Alaska legalized marijuana only to recriminalize it in 1990 after Alaskan teen marijuana use jumped to twice the national average. And pot use tripled among young adults in the Netherlands after a policy shift made it essentially legal.
Expanding on some of Dr. Sabet’s words, the legalization of marijuana would lead to a commercialization that glamorizes its use and furthers its social acceptance. High profits might make aggressive marketing worthwhile for sellers (read: big corporations), with addiction simply the price of doing business, but take it from someone in the treatment field: we do not need more access, more justification, or more incentive for people to become addicted to a drug.
The risks far outweigh the reward for you being able to legally smoke that joint.