Marijuana is having increasingly widespread and detrimental effects on American society. Those Americans who support enforcing existing laws on marijuana (a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act) are being attacked in the media and by those who favor liberalized marijuana laws and consider themselves to be open-minded on the issue.
To really have an open mind on marijuana is to evaluate all of the evidence, to understand the costs to society and to individuals of marijuana use, and to weigh those against the benefits of decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana.
Fact #1: Legalizing marijuana is bad for the workplace.
The impact of employee marijuana use is seen in the workplace in lower productivity, increased workplace accidents and injuries, increased absenteeism, and lower morale. This can and does seriously impact the bottom line.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 50 percent of all on-the-job accidents and up to 40 percent of employee theft is due to drug abuse. Drug-abusing employees are absent from work ten times more frequently than their non-using peers, and the turnover rate is 30 percent higher than for those employees who do not engage in illicit drug abuse. Workers who reported drug use are significantly more likely to have worked for three or more employers in the past year, and to have higher rates of unexcused absences and voluntary turnover in the past year.
Small businesses face the largest problem. They are disproportionately hurt by employee marijuana use because they are much more likely to rely on younger workers (who have higher usage rates), and are less likely to utilize and/or be able to afford the preemployment drug testing which would detect drug use.
Fact #2: Marijuana use is rising.
Marijuana is the most common illegal drug used in the U.S. In 2012, 18.9 million Americans were past-month users, according to the U.S. Government’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). In fact, the rate of use is increasing rapidly and went from 5.8 percent to 7.3 percent of the population between 2007 to 2012, an additional 4.4 million more current marijuana users in our country.
More Americans add to these numbers daily. There were 2.4 million people over age 12 who used marijuana for the first time in 2012.
This means there were 6,600 first-time marijuana users each day in America in 2012, and that number is trending significantly upward.
Fact #3: Marijuana is much more potent – and addictive – today.
The levels of THC in marijuana (Tetrahydrocannabinol is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) have never been higher, and samples seized by law enforcement have reached a new average high of 10.1 percent, compared to less than 3 percent in the 1980s. High potency strains, such as sinsemilla, reportedly are now four times as strong containing a 16-22 percent THC content.
Fact #4: Marijuana use has long-term negative effects.
In study after study, adolescents who use marijuana have been found to have problems with attention, learning, and processing information. A teenage marijuana user is twice as likely to become a high school dropout as a non-user. In a recent study of college students, regular marijuana smokers were found to have impairment of critical skills connected to concentration and recall. Compared with infrequent users, regular marijuana users had difficulty in sustaining their concentration, and/or organizing and using information.
In 2012, an estimated 5.4 million past-year marijuana users aged 12 or older used marijuana on 300 or more days within the past 12 months. This represents a 74-percent increase in “daily” marijuana users (300 days or more in the last year) in the six years from 2006 when “only” 3.1 million Americans were daily marijuana users. Frequent marijuana smokers like these face escalating problems in school and at work, and extreme difficulty in reaching their potential.
Fact #5: Marijuana is bad for your health.
Years of research indicate substantial concern for marijuana’s impact on health:
Lungs: Repeatedly smoking marijuana increases the risk of respiratory ailments ranging from chronic lung infections to bronchitis and cancers of the respiratory tract.
Liver: International studies show that people who have current liver complications and use marijuana every day are more likely to develop severe liver fibrosis.
Heart: The heart rate increases up to 100 percent for up to three hours after smoking marijuana. Cardiac problems in marijuana smokers are linked to the rise in blood pressure and reduction in blood oxygen carried to the heart which occurs after smoking. Harvard researchers reported that the risk of heart attack in the hour after smoking marijuana is five times higher than normal.
Reproductive Systems: Regularly ingesting marijuana has been shown to impact reproductive health in both men and women. In men, United Press International reports that erectile dysfunction and sperm motility have been linked to marijuana use. In women, international studies have shown children of marijuana smokers are born with low birth weights and small head size, both of which are associated with learning issues after age four.
Fact #6: Marijuana is not medicine.
There are strict standards for what constitutes a medicine in this country. It must be deliverable in exact dosages and must be made up of measurable amounts of compounds so that doctors can predict and control its impact. Marijuana potency and purity varies from plant to plant, often contains harmful contaminants, and when it is smoked or ingested in foods and beverages as is permitted in “medical-marijuana” states, the dosage can vary greatly. Marijuana does not fit the basic definition of a medicine and since it is self-delivered, the dosages frequently are random and inconsistent, as are the effects on the human body.
It is well-documented that marijuana impacts people in different ways and at different rates. While one user may feel mild effects from smoking marijuana, others who smoke the same dosages report disorientation, loss of motor control and coordination, and severe symptoms lasting for varying amounts of time.
Fact #7: The record on marijuana legalization in other countries provides a sound basis to reject legalization in the U.S.
Colombia legalized the personal use and possession of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin in 1994. Since the law’s implementation, research in a ten-year study indicated drug use increased by 40 percent. Nine percent of city-dwelling Colombians aged 12-25 were regularly using drugs by 2004, just ten years later. Drug treatment costs skyrocketed and the Colombian government is considering recriminalizing drugs to combat the problem of drug dealing.
Marijuana has been legal in the Netherlands for a long time and the statistics unfortunately reflect it. Drug use among persons aged 18-25 progressively increased more than 200 percent between 1986 and 1996. The number of cannabis addicts receiving treatment jumped 25 percent in 1997 alone.
We hear about the Netherland’s acceptance of drug use, but we are less familiar with the ways the Netherlands has slowly become more restrictive and retreated from its liberal drug policies. Over time, the number of marijuana “coffee houses” has been reduced by 37 percent, and approximately 70 percent of Dutch towns have zero-tolerance policies in effect. Clearly many – if not most – Dutch people oppose marijuana use and legalization.
An interesting experiment was conducted in Zurich, Switzerland’s Platzspitz Park in the late 1980s when they dispensed heretofore illegal drugs for free. The program began with the expectation that “legal” drugs would generate less crime, decrease AIDS, and help ensure that addicts received treatment. After five years, the experiment was abandoned because crime and AIDS cases increased dramatically, drug-related deaths doubled, and the healthcare system was overloaded and could not handle all of the new cases.
The international track record on drug legalization does not support legalization in the U.S. Their experiences show us that legalizing drugs does not have the effects advocates claim. We should be learning from these international failures, not repeating them.
Fact #8: Marijuana is a gateway drug.
Adults who begin using marijuana early are five times more likely to become dependent on a drug, eight times more likely to become cocaine users, and 15 times more likely to use heroin in their lifetimes. According to NSDUH data, in 2012 marijuana was the most commonly used illicit drug and it was used by 79 percent of current American drug users. Marijuana is most definitely a gateway drug.
Fact #9: Motor Vehicle crashes are rising as a result of marijuana use.
There has been a 49-percent increase in the rate of positives for marijuana among drivers stopped by State Troopers for suspicion of Driving Under the Influence in the first six months of 2013 in the State of Washington. In the brain, cannabinoid receptors are found in large concentration in areas that influence memory, thought, concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordination. Depth perception, coordination, and concentration are all required to safely drive a car or operate machinery.
A 2011 study entitled Marijuana Use and Motor Vehicle Use found that “crash risk appears to increase progressively with dose and frequency of marijuana use.” Key study findings included that “drivers who test positive for marijuana or self-report using marijuana are more than twice as likely as other drivers to be involved in motor vehicle crashes.”
Another study of more than 64,000 insured drivers from 1979-1985 found that 31 percent of drivers involved in motor vehicle crashes reported smoking marijuana prior to the accident.
Fact #10: Most Americans do not want marijuana use to become commonplace.
Polls can be misleading. It’s not that half of all Americans support legalizing marijuana, it’s that majorities of some groups do, primarily in certain regions of the country. In a 2013 Pew Research study, the clear majority of Americans said they would feel uncomfortable if someone around them smoked marijuana. Younger Americans support legalizing marijuana far more (64 percent) than older Americans do, skewing the overall numbers. Most women oppose legalizing marijuana, while men are slightly more likely to support it. Regionally, support is strongest in the West, while most other areas of the country do not support it.
The next time you read that Americans support legalizing marijuana, consider the source of the message. Ask yourself who really benefits and who will be paying the costs in terms of lost productivity, increased healthcare costs, compromised education, and decreased safety.
We have been successful in getting out the message about cigarettes and alcohol use being harmful, and their use is declining. Ironically, the message on marijuana seems to be the opposite – the patently erroneous assertions that marijuana is not harmful and is a legitimate medicine are taking hold in the public consciousness. We need to push back against those who want to legalize marijuana and put the preferences of marijuana smokers above the overall interests of American society.
Marijuana is an increasingly dangerous and addictive drug, and its health risks for the individual and detrimental impacts for American society are very frequently misstated, misunderstood, and/or underestimated.
A credibly open-minded person needs to be an informed person. Informed Americans oppose marijuana use and oppose marijuana legalization.
–Mark A de Bernardo