Legalizing Weed

In regards to legalizing marijuana, I would like to discuss this statement from Majority Leader Paul Gazelka….

“It’s important to consider the many negative consequences that come with legalizing recreational marijuana,” Gazelka told the Dispatch in a statement. “Car accidents and addiction rates have increased in states that have legalized it, health care costs are expected to rise because it makes people more vulnerable to disease and mental health issues and it has serious negative effects on adolescent development. We must have a long conversation about these real consequences.”

Yes, it is true, there are some negative aspects of legalizing marijuana – many of them the same as with alcohol.

As many of you know, I am a retired pharmacist and have looked into marijuana over many years. My first reaction was similar to Gazelka – it seemed dangerous. It was another mood altering drug… with unknown consequences. But we have many of those – Ritalin comes to mind and no one doubts it has some positive actions on ADHD kids – but it also has highly addictive properties without medical supervision. Over the years, my opinion has gone beyond the law enforcement negative connotations of marijuana. Now, I believe that marijuana should be legalized in the same manner that alcohol is right now.

I question whether there is enough data to make Gazelka’s broad assertion –  “Car accidents and addiction rates have increased in states that have legalized it.”  I have serious doubts that higher addiction rates can be determined on legalization alone. And mental health issues can be derived from the illegal use by young kids. There are reputable studies that the developing mind needs to be dealt with carefully in regards to marijuana – but that also holds for any serious medication.

Let me point out that every drug has potential problems. Tylenol can cause liver disease. Aspirin can put a hole in your stomach. Anti-depressants can cause suicidal feelings. As with any drug you put in your body, you need to assess benefits and risks.

What we have not had in the past is actual studies with real data on marijuana use. It was classified as a Schedule I drug years ago which prohibited real medical analysis – and which in reality encouraged illegal use in the black market. Now, the data is slowly coming forward. And a lot of it looks remarkably like use of alcohol and in some cases even less of a problem than alcohol.

But why legalize it? Why put it into the marketplace against the wishes of law enforcement recommendations?

Well, let me give you a few…

A. It can work for chronic pain. We have let opioids get out of control. And the reason for this is that we do not have real alternatives for chronic pain treatment. We cannot take opioids out of the marketplace, because they are needed and necessary. But indications are real that marijuana can help replace this growing problem. If it legalized, more and more pain victims will at least have an alternative to try. It will not work for everyone but early indications are so promising that we cannot ignore the benefits.

B. The incarceration rates are ridiculous. The discriminatory nature of charges and prison sentences against people of color in regards to marijuana are unconscienable. When law enforcement lectures us on the dangers of marijuana, they also must explain this disparity in arrest rates. The differences of marijuana as a legal drug vs. marijuana as a street drug are stark. Getting pot out of the black market will make a difference in crime. It won’t cure anything, but it will help.

C. Revenue benefits. This is a bit incidental, but important none the less. States are craving new revenue sources. Sources that the public will accept. Legal marijuana is one of those. It would behoove any legislature to make sure that a portion of revenue raised from these sales should go to drug treatment….of all kinds. This is necessary because we have a serious problem in all forms of addiction – marijuana will probably be less of a problem than addictions to alcohol and prescription drugs.

D. Mental illness. Marijuana shows promise as a good tool in mental health therapy. The studies are only beginning, but drug treatment involves mood/brain alterations. Even with prescription drugs. To me, marijuana is probably a safer alternative than many of the current antidepressants available now. It may even be a treatment for more serious mental health issues like schizophrenia. We owe it to ourselves to at least get statistical data via proper studies.

So, you may ask…why legalize it? Why not put it on a prescription regimen? Because the people who need it may not be able to afford it that way. We all know what happens when big pharma packages up any medication – it becomes restrictive and costly. What we know about marijuana really relates to the side effects of alcohol. If we can legalize that, we certainly can legalize marijuana. Give people a real choice…something to try when their chronic pain becomes unbearable. And they can try it without waiting for medical evaluations that more than likely, are not necessary.

For Minnesota, we have other states’ precedents. We have information we can learn from and give a proper hearing. We need to do that.  This session. Right now.

We have medical marijuana right now –  we can go that one step further.

At least in my opinion.


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