So declared incumbent Colorado governor, John Hickenlooper, in a recent re-election campaign debate. Many states have relaxed marijuana laws, such as for medical use or by decriminalization, and two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized its recreational use. Furthermore, public opinion at the national level is gradually swinging over in support of legalization (see below).
The New York Times published five lengthy editorials on this subject last summer under the heading of “High Time,” taking the position that the health risks of marijuana use are minimal (except for adolescents) and that it should be left up to the states to decide on the issue of legalization.
But now a new study has just been published by an Australian researcher, Wayne Hall, “What has research over the past two decades revealed about the adverse health effects of recreational cannabis use?” in a highly rated journal, Addiction. Its key findings are:
- Driving while cannabis intoxicated doubles the risk of an accident; this risk substantially increases if users are also alcohol-intoxicated.
- Cannabis use during pregnancy slightly reduces birth weight.
- 1 in 10 cannabis users develop a dependence syndrome; 1 in 6 for adolescents.
- Regular cannabis users double the risk of experiencing psychotic disorders.
- Regular adolescent cannabis users have lower educational attainment.
- Regular adolescent cannabis users are more likely to use other illicit drugs.
- Regular cannabis smokers have a higher risk of developing chronic bronchitis.
- Cannabis smoking in middle age increases the risk of myocardial infarction.
These adverse effects of marijuana use are serious. My own opinion is that Colorado and Washington probably made a mistake by legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. At any rate, an experiment is now being conducted in these two states and in a few years we will know how it works out. Other states should be reluctant to follow suit until then. In the meantime, I support national legislation to decriminalize marijuana use but not to legalize it.
Drug use and misuse has huge economic ramifications and so it is very important to have a sensible and rational national policy on this issue.