How will legalizing pot affect the health of our communities?

December 28, 2017 | by Aaron Weiner, Ph.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Recently, legislators announced they would push for marijuana legalization as a solution to the state’s fiscal crisis when they return to Springfield in January. But how will legalizing pot affect the health of our communities?

As the director of an addiction service line and a clinical psychologist with firsthand experience treating addiction, I believe the public health consequences of promoting the sale of another addictive drug in Illinois will far outweigh any temporary benefit.

Marijuana policies deserve a robust and informed debate, but that discussion should be driven by science and facts, not other motives. When we look at the negative health implications of marijuana use, the science is crystal clear.

According to the CDC, one in 10 adults will develop an addiction when using marijuana regularly, and new research indicates that one in three current marijuana users has a diagnosable marijuana use disorder.

This is something I see in my clinics often. I treat patients suffering from marijuana addiction — a problem that, according to both my own experiences and published research, undermines my patients’ ability to complete school, achieve their maximum earning potential, hold jobs, function in a healthy marriage, and find overall life satisfaction.

Perhaps what concerns me most is the impact of legalizing marijuana on our young people. We now know that Colorado youth lead the country in past-month marijuana use. And Oregon and Washington states, which have also legalized the drug, each rank in the top six states nationwide for past-month marijuana use by adolescents.

Also, marijuana-related emergency room visits by young people in Colorado more than quadrupled since the state legalized marijuana. In fact, more Coloradans in drug treatment are self-reporting heavy use of marijuana than ever before. And an American Automobile Association study in Washington state showed a doubling in the number of fatal drug-impaired car crashes after legalization.

Years ago, we realized that exposure to lead created significant adverse public health consequences. In response, we removed lead from nearly everything we could: paint, pencils, window blinds, glass and so on.

My fear is that more exposure to marijuana through commercialization will drive more kids to smoke pot, increase treatment admissions for addiction, and become a significant setback for public health and safety.

I don’t have the answer to criminal justice reform and our state’s financial crisis, but I don’t think it should involve creating a new industry that markets pot gummy bears, pot lollypops and 93 percent THC concentrates to our youngest and most vulnerable.

If you or someone you know needs help with a drug addiction, you aren’t alone. Get help from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

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