Legalized marijuana for recreational use is now a reality in states like Washington and Colorado. Voters in those states passed ballot initiatives to legalize the drug for recreational use. It’s a move that has raised plenty of questions: How would decriminalization affect local government and law enforcement? Will it increase the rate of addiction to marijuana and other drugs? How does the legalization of recreational weed affect the addiction treatment community?
Legalizing Marijuana Pros
As state and local governments struggle with rising costs and decreased revenue, many are looking for creative ways to increase income to pay for everything from road repairs to new parks. Some believe that marijuana legalization could be a windfall in the form of new taxes applied to its distribution and sale. In Colorado, for example, analysts suggest that taxing the drug could raise between $5 and $22 million annually .
More effective law enforcement and criminal justice:
Many advocates for legalization note that by decriminalizing the substance, police officers will have more time and money to pursue criminals for other crimes, including those involving violence. They also argue it would create wiggle room in the criminal justice system, allowing prosecutors and judges to focus on violent crimes while freeing space in crowded prisons. One study estimates that nationwide marijuana legalization would save governments $8.7 billion each year .
Less money supporting organized crime:
Legalizing recreational weed cuts off an important revenue stream for many in the illegal drug trade. Advocates of legalization contend that by making the substance less profitable for criminals, it will decrease the violence associated with the trade. The result could save lives while taking pressure off of law enforcement.
When a person buys marijuana off the street, there’s no way to know exactly what dangerous substances are cut into the drug. While current legalization efforts don’t directly address safety issues, they do create a framework for a safety control system, which would work to eliminate some of the risk that comes from smoking a substance potentially laced with toxic ingredients.
Wider access for medicinal use:
Some people from inside and outside the medical community argue that the drug is an effective treatment for a range of conditions, including epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and multiple sclerosis (MS). In more than a dozen states, including California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, medical marijuana use is already legal under certain guidelines. The decriminalization of weed would allow more people to use the drug for its believed health benefits.
Legalizing Marijuana Cons
Legal marijuana supporters have argued that it’s not as addictive as other “harder” drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. Addiction treatment specialists, however, have seen firsthand that long term use does lead to marijuana addiction. Research suggests as many as 10% of users will develop dependence over time. As with other substances, stopping marijuana use leads to withdrawal symptoms that range from irritability to anxiety . Opponents of legal recreational pot argue that any savings that would arise from legalization would be offset by the cost of treating the additional users who become addicted to marijuana.
Marijuana is a drug; and a drug, by definition, changes the way the body works. Marijuana users experience a high that alters the way they perceive things while under the influence. For example, low-to-moderate doses of the drug distort perception enough to trigger car accidents. One study showed that marijuana was the most prevalent illegal drug found in impaired or fatally injured drivers .
Gateway drug status:
Many addiction treatment specialists believe marijuana is a gateway drug with the potential to introduce a user to more serious illegal substances, like cocaine or heroin. Research also suggests that its use may be linked to a higher risk of prescription drug use. A recent Yale University School of Medicine study revealed that teenage boys who abused alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana were 2 to 3 times more likely to abuse prescription drugs during young adulthood. Marijuana use alone was associated with increased prescription abuse in the teenage girls examined through the study . Legalization, then, could increase societal and financial costs for treating those who are introduced to heavier drugs by smoking marijuana.
The jokes about pot users and their horrible memories are not an urban legend simply put forward by everyone from Hollywood movies to addiction treatment centers. For example, one study suggests the vessels in the brain of a marijuana smoker restrict blood flow, and continue to do so even after a month of abstinence .
While tobacco has a bad reputation for pumping carcinogens into the lungs, marijuana is estimated to have levels of carcinogens that are 50-70% higher than tobacco smoke. The effect is amplified by the fact that many pot smokers inhale more deeply than cigarette smokers, increasing the amount of time the lungs are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals .
Using marijuana raises the heart rate from 20% to 100% for up to 3 hours after it’s been smoked. This increase boosts the risk of several problems including heart palpitations, arrhythmias, and heart attack. Its effect on the heart can make smoking the drug a high-risk activity for seniors or people living with cardiac conditions .
Studies suggest a link between marijuana use and mental illnesses, like depression and schizophrenia. Researchers aren’t yet sure if the marijuana triggers these conditions, or if smokers turn to the drug to self-mediate their symptoms . However, it is clear that marijuana use plays some role in the mental health picture.
The movement to legalize marijuana is becoming a reality in some areas. For local governments, law enforcement officials, the judicial system, and addiction treatment specialists affected by the shift, it will continue to be important to work together to create communities that are free from addiction-and its devastating emotional, physical, and financial effects.
24 Nov 2012
On the 6th of November, Colorado, Washington and Oregon decide whether to pass measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use. The fairly common use of the drug for medical purposes has undoubtedly spurred on this move, and Colorado is thought to be the most likely state to approve their bill. A Denver Post poll put support for the measure at 51 percent, with 40 percent opposing it. The issue is a very complex one, but some analysts claim that legalization measures will be common in states within five to seven years, so learning the pros and cons is extremely useful for when it comes to the polls.
20 Nov 2012
Those who seek to legalize marijuana often cite its ability to relieve pain as a reason to make the drug available. For those who have a chronic, painful condition such as cancer or HIV, say advocates, the drug can improve quality of life.
Many individuals try cannabis and soon develop dependence. However, as with many substances, some individuals are able to use the drug without developing an abuse problem. The increased vulnerability of some when it comes to drug use is tied to various factors, both biological and environmental.
16 Oct 2012
Cannabis, the plant behind the drug marijuana, has been used by humans for thousands of years and for many different purposes. For its psychoactive properties, it has been used for religious and spiritual ceremonies and for recreation. The seeds have long been used as a nutritious food and the fibers make strong textiles, called hemp. In more recent history, researchers have also discovered that some of the compounds in the cannabis plant have important medicinal properties and some states are now allowing use of the previously illegal drug in medical ways.
The association between marijuana and other hard core drugs is nothing new. In fact, marijuana has been touted as a gateway drug for years. Now, however, researchers may have data to substantiate that claim.
16 Sep 2012
Proponents of legalizing marijuana claim that the drug is different from other street drugs. One difference claimed by users is that marijuana is not habit-forming in the same way as are alcohol, tobacco or cocaine. Studies do show, however, that marijuana use involves the very same regions of the brain as are stimulated by other addictions. Addictions to substances or behaviors (such as pornography or gambling) all involve habituated triggers to brain activity. It seems reasonable then to assume that if one can prove similar triggers within the brain relating to marijuana use that a case can be made for its addictive quality.
22 Aug 2012
Although many users would claim that marijuana is not physically addictive, ask anyone who has tried to stop smoking marijuana after decades of use and the story they tell will break your heart and curl your hair. Physical withdrawal symptoms are common, ranging from headaches and insomnia to loss of appetite, sometimes lasting as long as several weeks. Irritability, agitation, depression, and malaise last even longer. Whatever the specific mechanism for addiction and withdrawal may be, the fact that it causes suffering is apparent.