Are marijuana legalization laws based on bad science?
Myths about marijuana abound. Among them are claims
that it’s harmless, it’s not addictive and that legalizing it will
solve the government’s budgetary problems, said U.S. Rep.
John Fleming, MD, at a June 19 congressional briefing. “My
concern today is, are we making bad laws to, in fact, respond to
The briefing was sponsored by APA and other members of
The Friends of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA),
a coalition that advocates for research funding for NIDA and
educates policymakers about its findings. This event sought
to dispel myths about marijuana and outline what is known
about its use and its societal impact. For example, 9 percent of
people who experiment with marijuana will become addicted,
and regular marijuana use in adolescence is linked to impaired
neural connectivity in adulthood, according to a June review
article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“It’s the exposure of adolescent brains [to marijuana]
that concerns all of us because of the unique and important
nature of brain development during teen years,” said Wilson
Compton, MD, the deputy director of NIDA and a co-author
of the article.
The briefing featured psychologist Robert Booth, PhD,
of the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who
presented his preliminary findings on marijuana use and its
consequences. So far, he’s found that since Colorado started
implementing its medical marijuana laws fully in 2009,
“Colorado is at an all-time high in terms of [drug-
related] expulsions, and 98 percent of these expulsions are
for marijuana,” Booth said. Similarly, the number of people
arrested for driving under the influence of THC, the main
psychoactive chemical in marijuana, nearly tripled from 2009
to 2012, he said.
Patrick Kennedy, a former U.S. congressman and chairman
of the marijuana awareness organization Project SAM, spoke
about the danger of commercializing marijuana products such
as lollipops and sodas. “This is really an industry that makes its
profits off of addiction,” he said. Kennedy and other speakers
also stressed that widespread distribution of marijuana may
counter efforts to improve the country’s mental health system
by encouraging people to self-medicate with marijuana or to
become addicted to it.
All speakers agreed that more research is needed to
understand the effects of marijuana and inform policy. “Policy
is all about making decisions, and those decisions have to
be made based on real information, solid information,” said
Charles O’Keefe, co-chair of The Friends of NIDA and a
professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. “And solid
information comes from good, solid research.”
— ANNA MILLER