Opinion: Legal marijuana would create a health crisis in America

When Canada legalized recreational marijuana nationwide Oct. 17, many speculated the United States might be next in line to legalize the substance, as several states have already taken this step.

While certain chemicals found in marijuana are used to make FDA-approved prescription drugs, recreational marijuana should not be legalized at this time in the U.S. Marijuana use poses health and safety risks that cannot be monitored or prevented with current laws or technology.

To start, THC — the primary psychoactive ingredient of marijuana — levels in cannabis are much stronger today than they were 30 years ago, which may pose greater health risks than previously accounted for or believed. 

“In a study presented in March 2015 at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, researchers said they found that samples of marijuana in Colorado contained as much as 30 percent THC,” Live Science reported in 2016. “In comparison, the levels of THC in marijuana 30 years ago were generally below 10 percent.”

While many pot users may rejoice at the idea of stronger drugs, a 2016 study published in “Schizophrenia Bulletin” warned that higher levels of THC pose a risk of heavy users being diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder as well as suffering from suicidal thoughts, especially in teenagers.  

In contrast, some studies show that marijuana is “safer” than other substances such as alcohol and tobacco. 

Though alcohol’s negative effects overshadow the vices of pot, marijuana’s identity as a non-addictive substance is a widely-believed fable. Christine Vestal wrote in an article for Pew Charitable Trusts that 9 percent of all marijuana users are addicted to the substance, or about 2.7 million users, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). 

Though marijuana does not pose a risk of death by overdose, the substance does present a risk of addiction. With THC levels skyrocketing, addiction is a greater concern now more than ever. 

“More potent drugs have more potential to addict customers, thereby turning them into reliable profit centers,” Keith Humphreys reported for the Washington Post.

Currently, there are few regulations on the THC concentrations found in marijuana products sold in the United States. Other addictive substances, such as alcohol, are required to constrain potency. According to the Washington Post, alcohol potency is controlled “through different levels of tax for products of different strengths, as well as constraints on labeling and place of sale.”

Marijuana dispensaries offer a variety of pot products, such as dried flowers, edibles, beverages and pre-rolled joints — all with varying levels of THC. Edibles often have as high as 95 percent THC concentration, while marijuana plants usually have a 20 to 30 percent THC concentration, Stat News reported. 

“Government can and should place limits on marijuana’s strength, just as it does other addictive products, thereby protecting public health as well as saving the taxpayer the future costs of treatment and other needed health-care services,” Humphreys said. 

NIDA reported that marijuana usage “significantly impairs judgment, motor coordination and reaction time.” While driving under the influence usually refers to alcohol, driving under the influence of marijuana is also a reality. According to NIDA, drugged driving increases the chances of the user causing a traffic accident by 3 to 7 percent. 

“In Washington state, for example, the number of traffic deaths due to marijuana-impaired drivers doubled in the years after recreational marijuana was legalized,” Kurt Isaacson reported for Stat News. “In Colorado, the number of fatal accidents involving marijuana rose by 62 percent since its recreational use was legalized in 2012.”

While drunk drivers can be easily identified via the Breathalyzer test, drugged drivers are not as easy to identify. Isaacson claimed it is “difficult to deter or punish” drugged drivers because there is no comparable test to identify blood-THC levels. 

Recreational marijuana should not be legalized with a broad brush in the U.S. In order to safely introduce the substance into the country, laws to limit marijuana’s potency must be put in place before the industry is established to ensure the safety of both users and nonusers. Currently, technology to deter users from driving drugged does not exist, making it difficult to prosecute drivers who may have been driving while impaired, which is a threat to other drivers.

At this time, legalizing marijuana on the federal level would be a careless, dangerous decision by the
U.S. government. 

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