Everyone has an opinion on marijuana legalization. We can disagree about whether or not legalization would result in a net benefit or net harm to our community, but revealing only half-truths is no way to have a reasoned debate on this issue.
The Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition's position is this:
n An Federal Drug Administration process currently exists to get effective drugs into the healthcare system. Marijuana should not be exempted.
n The U.S. has had to scale back on other drugs historically touted as "safe and/or effective" when they were pushed into society without regard to public health factors, e.g. opiates. Let's not go down the same road with marijuana.
n MCSAC unequivocally supports law enforcement's efforts to do their job as required by law.
n Compassion is an admirable trait: It is not a substitute for reasonable discourse on the facts.
In our work on this issue, MCSAC has learned two things:
1. There is a desperate need for data-based information looking at marijuana in the context of a pharmaceutical medication.
2. No matter how data-dry and context-bias-free we present marijuana information, passionate people hear what they want to hear.
With this in mind, we will not recite the compelling data, statistics and research against marijuana legalization (check out our website at www.drugfreemanatee.org). But pro or con, we must consider the public health impacts of marijuana legalized for medical purposes.
n Second-hand smoke: From the viewpoint of a pair of lungs there is no difference between marijuana and cigarettes, with some exceptions: the "active" ingredient is different (nicotine for one, THC for the other) and marijuana is classically smoked without a filter (meaning the carcinogens and tars/particulates are more concentrated). Ignoring the issue of second-hand smoke, as tobacco interests discovered, will not make it go away.
n Substance abuse/mental health implications: Recent, high-quality, long-term, robust research involving thousands and thousands of people over generations of time, in several populations and countries, has shown that marijuana use leads to a measurable increase in the future development of schizophrenia -- even when controlling for family and environment. While most people are concerned about the long-term implications of marijuana use for addiction and crime (and these are real concerns), we cannot ignore the linkage between marijuana and schizophrenia. Shouldn't funding for treatment be part of the cost of legalization?
n Driving while high: This is a complicated topic, clinically, because while data is clear that people who drive while high are definitely impaired, the question is how long someone is impaired after using marijuana. Enforcement of drugged driving must be addressed in any marijuana legalization proposal.
n Childproofing: Isn't it just common sense to ask adults to childproof their mind-altering and coma-inducing (in children) medications? We cannot ignore how marijuana is marketed and how it is sold, e.g., classic pill-type bottles vs. bags. Legitimate legislation must take into account, as it does for all other drugs, the entire delivery process.
n Teen protection: Research has taught us that exposure to potentially-addictive substances at an earlier age leads to more addiction to the substance and worse long-term outcomes. Explicit language to fund and develop reasonable monitoring mechanisms on sales must be included if we care about the health of young people.
n Quality control: Serious and widespread quality and safety issues abound with marijuana. The potential for widespread adulteration in any product sold by weight is very high -- what's really in it, sprayed on it, etc.? What about contamination with molds and bacteria for people with serious health concerns?
We are not denying there is medicinal value in cannabinoids, but smoked crude marijuana is not modern medicine. Cocaine and opium both have medicinal properties but physicians do not recommend snorting a line of cocaine or smoking opium. Legislation cannot ignore the need for quality handling procedures and FDA monitoring and oversight.
In the interests of full disclosure, MCSAC voted unanimously in 2012 to oppose any attempt to legalize marijuana in Florida.
Rita Chamberlain, is the associate director of the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition.