EDITORIAL: Would legalizing marijuana benefit California?

USA Today reports that 6.9 percent of the population admits to marijuana use, making it the most commonly abused drug in the United States.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that about “one in six people who start using as a teen, and 25-50 percent of those who use it every day, become addicted to marijuana.”

On Nov. 2, 2011, California voters rejected Proposition 19 which would have legalized possession and cultivation of marijuana. But legalization advocates have vowed to bring this issue back.

The Balanced Politics website breaks down the Pros and Cons:

Pro people believe smoking marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco, and frankly they would like to see the drug lords lose business and have their state benefit from additional tax revenues.

On the con side, people worry that marijuana is a gateway drug, it’s morally wrong, and legalization sets a dangerous precedent for the future.

But one issue little debated is whether or not marijuana is addictive. Exactly what is the cost to the lives of our future generations?

The days of smoking grass at a frat party to get a buzz are over because the marijuana that children have access to today is a whole different world.

Narconon.org reports, “… since marijuana potencies have been increasing for the last two decades, there is a greater chance of adverse mental effects when the drug is abused. The simple fact is that marijuana today is much stronger than what they used to have back 20 years ago.”

Data on the consequences of long-term marijuana is more available today from several bureaus and the cost as it turns out is much higher than ever imagined.

The National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (NSDUH) reports: Persons 18 or older, those who first used marijuana before age 12 were twice as likely to have serious mental illness … than those who first used marijuana at age 18 or older.

The American Journal of Psychology reported on August 1, 2011 that, “A recent prospective cohort study of 7,735 adults with no history of anxiety or mood disorders found that adults who used marijuana at the beginning of the 3-year study period were at an increased risk of having a first depressive episode (odds ratio=1.62, 95% CI=1.06-2.48) in comparison to non-users and this association was stronger with more frequent use.”

So what exactly are the effects of marijuana use on an individual life?

The NIDA reports the use of marijuana causes: “distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and problems with learning and memory …” As a result, someone who smokes marijuana every day may be functioning at a suboptimal intellectual level all of the time.

Further NIDA research indicates that marijuana use impairs daily life in the areas of life achievement, including physical and mental health, cognitive abilities, social life and career status. Employers have reported that marijuana smoking increases absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims and job turnover.

Even though some users claim to not be addicted to marijuana, the addicts found in places such as Marijuana Anonymous openly speak about how their lives have been permanently altered by marijuana use … in a less than favorable manner.

United States struggle with legalizing marijuana

Legalization of marijuana use brings up a similar battle fought during prohibition over the right to certain individual freedoms versus the safety and well-being of people and our communities.

Today anyone can walk into a medical clinic and say he/she has anxiety or insomnia and obtain a medical marijuana certificate on the spot. They will even point you to the local ‘pharmaceutical’ source.

Did you know that people can use vaporizers that don’t require the smoking of marijuana? These tools allow one to draw the vapor into their lungs and wait for the hit. This process virtually renders the drug odorless and that much harder to detect its use.

Some users argue that marijuana can’t be addictive because quitting doesn’t present withdrawal symptoms. But reports from both the NIDA and MA show that long-term marijuana abusers can experience multiple withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit including: irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety and a drug craving. If you doubt it, just sit in on a MA meeting and listen to the people’s stories.

If we are going to let doctors hand out certificates to legally buy marijuana, shouldn’t there be a system of checks and balances to stop the proliferation of greedy doctors who desire an additional revenue source and never see these patients more than one time?

More data on the effects of marijuana drug use on mental health dating back to 1989 through 2012 can be found on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s website.