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Cannabis

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ANALYSIS: Loosening Restrictions on Marijuana: Discerning Medical From Recreational Use

Studies in Colorado Consider Effects of Legalization

Debate over the legalization of marijuana continues apace in a number of countries. A recent report by the British Treasury spoke of the large amount of tax revenue that could be obtained through legalization, the BBC reported Oct 13.

There are, however, no plans to change the law on marijuana and in a statement the Home Office said that: “There is clear scientific and medical evidence that cannabis is a harmful drug which can damage people’s mental and physical health, and harms individuals and communities.”

Relaxing the restrictions on marijuana was a subject raised in the recent Canadian elections. During the campaign the Liberal Party, which ended up winning, promised they would legalize the drug, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported Oct. 12.

Yet only in December last year Health Canada conducted an ad campaign against marijuana use. The newspaper article also quoted Dr. Anthony Ocana, a family doctor and addiction specialist, who said he has noticed one serious long-term harmful effect among his patients who smoke almost daily: the gradual decline of their cognitive function.

As well, he said psychosis is the biggest short-term risk for those under 25 years old who consume cannabis on more than 20 days a month.

Meanwhile, in Australia the state government of Victoria announced it would start trials using marijuana in 2017 for patients with serious health problems, the Australian newspaper reported Oct. 23. According to media reports it would not involve smoking marijuana, but instead its use would be by means of application of an oil.

Negative consequences

Medically supervised use of marijuana for diagnosed illnesses, where its side effects are carefully considered along with its benefits, is very different from the recreational use of the drug, which many continue to advocate.

The downside of marijuana use was examined in a study published by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in September this year.

Titled, “The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact,” it is the third annual report on the impact of marijuana legalization in the state.

In 2010, Colorado’s legislature passed legislation that included the licensing of medical marijuana centers and manufacturing of marijuana for medical purposes. In November 2012, Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana.

The study found there were a number of negative consequences following legalization of the drug.

+ In 2014, when retail marijuana businesses began operating, there was a 32% increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths in just one year from 2013. Colorado marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 92% from 2010– 2014. During the same time period all traffic deaths only increased 8%.

+ As well, marijuana-related traffic deaths were approximately 20% of all traffic deaths in 2014 compared to half that just five years ago.

+ In 2013, 11.16% of Colorado youth ages 12 to 17 years old were considered current marijuana users compared to 7.15% nationally. Colorado ranked 3rd in the nation and was 56% higher than the national average.

+ Drug-related suspensions/expulsions increased 40% from school years 2008/2009 to 2013/2014. The vast majority were for marijuana violations.

+ In 2013, 29% of college age students (ages 18 to 25 years old) were considered current marijuana users compared to 18.91% nationally. Colorado, ranked 2nd in the nation, was 54% higher than the national average.

+ In 2013, 10.13% of adults ages 26 years old and over were considered current marijuana users compared to 5.45% nationally. Colorado, ranked 5th in the nation, was 86% higher than the national average.

+ In 2014, when retail marijuana businesses began operating, there was a 29% increase in the number of marijuana-related emergency room visits in only one year.

+ In the three years after medical marijuana was commercialized, compared to the three years prior, there was a 46% increase in hospitalizations related to marijuana.

+ National THC potency, the active ingredient in marijuana, has risen from an average of 3.96% in 1995 to an average of 12.55% in 2013. The average potency in Colorado was 17.1%.

+ Homelessness increased with the appeal of legal marijuana being a factor. Denver has more licensed medical marijuana centers (198) than pharmacies (117).

Impact on the brain

The Colorado study also referred to research on the impact of marijuana on teenage brains. Researchers at Northwestern University published a study in the journal Hippocampus that found heavy marijuana users had long-term memory test scores 18% lower than those who had not used marijuana.

Another study, published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry by Dr. Muiris Houston found that daily users of marijuana prior to the age of 17 are 60% less likely to complete high school or get a university degree than those who do not use marijuana.

In addition, teens who are daily users of marijuana are seven times more likely to attempt suicide. And teenagers who use marijuana on a daily basis are eight times more likely to use other drugs later in life.

These studies clearly show that legalization of marijuana is not to be undertaken lightly and can only be justified for clearly defined medical applications.

About Fr. John Flynn

Australia Licenciatura en Artes de la Universidad de Nueva Gales del Sur. Licencia en Filosofía por la Pontificia Universidad Gregoriana. Licenciatura en teología de la Reina de los Apóstoles.

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