Pubdate: Thu, 04 Feb 2016
Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2016 Rutland Herald
Author: Paul Parker
Note: Dr. Paul Parker is a pediatrician in Richmond. He is former 
medical director of the Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center.


Legalization of recreational marijuana use would be to the definite 
detriment of Vermonters. The pending bill proposing to do so should 
be resolutely rejected.

It is a flawed perception that marijuana "just isn't that bad." 
Medical science has shown that there are multiple deleterious effects 
of marijuana, among which are the following: 1) Marijuana use has 
been shown to be associated with the development of mental health 
illness including depression, anxiety and paranoia.

2) Marijuana has been shown to cause problems with memory. This can 
have devastating impacts on a student's academic performance, future 
work or study opportunities. Work performance among those employed is 
also likely to be impacted negatively.

3) There is a well known detrimental effect on motivation caused by 
marijuana use, termed the "amotivational syndrome." Habitual 
marijuana users develop apathy and, again, school and work performance suffer.

4) Marijuana can cause psychological addiction. Users of marijuana 
are more likely to try even more harmful and addictive drugs in 
pursuit of getting high. Why would we legalize something that has the 
potential to promote even more drug abuse?

5) Marijuana use has been shown to impair the reflexes and judgment 
necessary for the safe operation of a motor vehicle. Legalization of 
another substance impairing drivers will lead to even more motor 
vehicle accidents and deaths.

6) Though not yet definitively shown to be the case, I am confident 
that smoking marijuana will eventually be shown to be a cause of lung 
disease, including cancer, emphysema and chronic obstructive 
pulmonary disease. Anything smoked is bound to cause cellular damage, 
which in turn leads to airway damage and, likely, cancer.

7) There are well-known endocrine effects of marijuana. Specifically, 
it interferes with the expression of testosterone, leading to 
gynecomastia (breast enlargement) and possibly testicular atrophy in 
males, heavy users being the most susceptible to these effects.

8). There are many other unanswered questions regarding the safety of 
marijuana. For instance, what is the effect on a fetus' brain and 
neuro-developmental outcome when a woman uses marijuana during 
pregnancy? It is highly plausible that long-term damage to the child 
will be the result.

The deleterious mental, physical and cognitive effects of marijuana 
use are indisputable. Anyone who argues to the contrary is in serious 
denial, or ignorant.

If recreational use of marijuana is legalized in Vermont, marijuana 
will be much more available to our youth. It is not at all difficult 
for youth to obtain cigarettes, chew tobacco or alcohol when these 
are present in their households. It will be the same for marijuana. 
States where recreational marijuana use has been legalized are 
experiencing an alarming increase in toxic ingestions among children 
and youth. This is typically in the form of "edibles." This will be 
an inevitable outcome for Vermont children and youth as well.

What message would we be sending to our children by legalizing 
marijuana use? Do we want to send the message that smoking or 
ingesting marijuana is OK, when it clearly isn't? Isn't that, in 
essence, what our state would be communicating to them by passing a 
bill legitimizing and legalizing its use? With an increase in 
availability, there will be an inevitable increase in use. Vermonters 
need to learn from the mistakes of other states, not emulate them.

Arguments for legalization of recreational use of marijuana should 
not be confused with those for legalization of marijuana for medical 
uses. Research as to possible medical uses of tetrahydrocannabinol 
(THC - the active ingredient in marijuana) is ongoing but in its 
infancy. (I do believe that more needs to be done to promote delivery 
modes that don't include smoking it. Smoking marijuana is never a 
good idea for any reason.)

Arguments that promote legalization of recreational marijuana use 
based on the current status of alcohol in our society are irrational. 
Alcohol abuse over the centuries has resulted in untold tragedies. 
The list of ills associated with alcohol abuse is daunting: alcohol 
dependence, cirrhosis, birth defects (fetal alcohol syndrome), 
drunken driving and other causes of accidental death, spousal and 
child abuse, rape, loss of worker productivity, among others. One 
cannot rationally argue that marijuana use should be legalized just 
because alcohol use is legal. Two bads don't make a good.

Much has been made of the idea that legalization/regulation is better 
than prohibition. Prohibition of alcohol failed as a policy because 
just about anybody with a bathtub could produce it.

Prohibition of marijuana production, possession and use discourages 
individuals from using it. Prohibition has an impact on ease of 
access and therefore on prevalence of use. As a society, we prohibit 
all sorts of acts that are deleterious to society as a whole. We 
prohibit drunken driving, stealing, cheating on taxes. This does not 
stop people from doing these things, but there are consequences for 
these actions if these individuals are caught doing them. Prohibition 
serves as a deterrent. Widespread use of marijuana results in 
multiple societal ills, hence society should prohibit its use.

Let's look at the example of opioids. Opioid use is legal as long as 
one has a prescription from a doctor (though not for recreational 
use). Opioid distribution is regulated, though one may argue (and I 
agree) that it has not been regulated well enough. Despite being 
legal and regulated, we have an epidemic of abuse. Why? Because 
opioids are widely available in people's homes. With increased 
availability there is increased use, leading to increased addiction 
and increased demand. This same scenario will play out if marijuana 
is legalized. Is marijuana use as bad as illicit opioid use? 
Certainly not, but, again, that doesn't make marijuana use good. And 
where do legalization proponents/prohibition opponents stop? Do we 
move on to legalizing heroin? Cocaine? Methamphetamine? LSD? 
Legalization would result in more use of each of these substances. As 
a society we cannot afford that. As parents, we should not tolerate it.

Individuals who use harmful and addictive substances ultimately cause 
harm to society on the whole. It is not just about the individual. 
Impaired individuals hurt others - on the road, in the home and in 
the womb. Impaired individuals hurt themselves. Society ultimately 
pays for this - in physical and mental health expenditures, impaired 
worker productivity, impaired student learning. People who use 
harmful and addictive drugs don't just hurt themselves, they hurt 
everyone around them.

Though I am not well versed in the tax revenue figures, proponents of 
legalization assert the State of Vermont will glean from passage of a 
legalization bill. I can attest that it will pale in comparison to 
the long-term enormous cost to the state.

I personally don't know any medical professionals, substance abuse 
counselors or law enforcement agents who believe that it is a good 
idea to legalize recreational use of marijuana. To whom are 
legislators listening then? Unfortunately, some legislators have a 
track record of not listening to the scientists and experts on 
scientific topics ranging from treatment of Lyme disease to the 
necessity of immunizing our children (though fortunately they finally 
got that one right). State legislators need to listen to the medical, 
mental health and law enforcement experts and not the very vocal 
marijuana legalization lobby.

No matter how you cut it, whether it be considering the safety of our 
children, the safety of our roads, prevalence of drug abuse, general 
and mental health considerations, or long-term fiscal repercussions, 
a bill legalizing recreational use of marijuana is a very bad idea 
for Vermonters. Only producers and sellers of marijuana will benefit. 
Habitual users will find access much enhanced, which will be to their 
own detriment. Vermonters on the whole will suffer a whole array of 
undesirable consequences.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom