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September 21, 2023

Marijuana Legalization — Smoke and Mirrors

“Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And hain’t that a big enough majority in any town?” Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

During my 40+ year career as a practicing forensic and clinical toxicologist, I have witnessed the disturbing destruction of scientific fact in the application of medicine and law. This evolution is the result of giving opinion and political agendas equal or greater weight than documented objective facts, and by suppressing the publication of facts that do not fit the promoted ideology du jour. The adulteration of the “follow the science” maxim became grossly apparent in the Biden administration’s manipulative mandates during the COVID pandemic.

Decades of effort supported by billions of dollars of misinformation campaigns in concert with political hubris, greed, and ignorance may result in Cannabis sativa (commonly referred to as marijuana) being removed as a Schedule I drug despite its high potential for abuse.

This reclassification will be extremely harmful to the health of our citizens and the stability of our society. Already, states are rushing to legalize marijuana and promote its use, despite the well-documented hazards.

One of the most significant steps taken to assert marijuana is “not harmful” occurred when the Obama administration discontinued the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). DAWN collected data from emergency rooms and medical examiners’ offices regarding drug-related adverse health events. At the time this program was discontinued, the data documented that marijuana was the second most frequently abused drug resulting in emergency room visits. As a toxicologist, this is not a surprising finding since the potency of marijuana has increased dramatically since the 1960s from a psychoactive THC content of 3-5% to today’s rate of usually over 20%. Common sense would suggest to even non-scientific individuals that a 400%+ increase in potency/dose should result in more adverse outcomes, not fewer.

“The dose makes the poison” is a basic principle of toxicology and is fundamental to public policy regulating public exposure to chemicals, not just drugs. Although 1960s marijuana might result in psychological dependence, today’s marijuana is much more likely to lead to physiological addiction and result in graduating to other abused and harmful drugs. Marijuana is well documented as a “gateway” drug leading to other abused drug use. By eliminating the DAWN system, the ability to collect data associated with marijuana’s adverse health consequences was greatly suppressed. The absence of aggregated scientific data documenting harm, coupled with the well-financed lies about marijuana being a “medicine” and beneficial to health, has misled the public, affected public policy, and limited marijuana abuse prevention programs.

Today’s potent marijuana will exacerbate other well-documented negative outcomes such as schizophrenia, paranoia, and amotivational syndrome. It is not surprising that California, the first state to legalize “medical” marijuana, is the state with approximately 30% of America’s homeless population but only about 12% of total population. Although multiple factors contribute to homelessness, many marijuana users will become “amotivational” with no incentive to work and only a desire to use marijuana or graduate to other disabling addictive drugs, which results in living on the street. Marijuana-related paranoia or schizophrenia may lead to random acts of violence by the homeless, further degrading the quality of life for cites/communities. Other cities and states that are normalizing marijuana use are exacerbating their homeless problem by encouraging a significant contributing factor that leads to mental illness and greater drug abuse.

It is ironic that state and federal public policy has worked for decades to reduce both alcohol and tobacco use due to the negative impact on individual health and the public healthcare system, while at the same time state and federal policies are being developed to promote the use of a harmful drug, marijuana, that combines the worst of both alcohol and tobacco. That combination: the intoxication associated with psychoactive THC may lead to impaired judgment and driving ability as does alcohol, and the inhalation of cancer-causing chemicals as are found in tobacco. Worse are the psychological problems that may lead to erratic behavior and violence associated with marijuana use.

The adverse impact of greater marijuana use on our healthcare system and society will be realized over time as we all suffer from these poor policy decisions.

Do not be fooled — removing marijuana from Schedule I status is a result of a smoke and mirrors campaign financed by those who wish to achieve legalization for all drugs, and the consequences will be as toxic to our society as the psychoactive and cancer-causing chemicals may be to marijuana users.

Dr. Black earned his doctorate degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine researching the toxicology and pharmacology of Cannabis/Marijuana. He is a long-standing member of our National Advisory Committee.

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