News Articles

Marijuana legalization presses on amid concerns

NASHVILLE (BP) — Marijuana legalization advocates continue to gain ground as nearly half of all states have decriminalized marijuana possession at least for medical purposes and a majority of Americans reportedly have told pollsters marijuana should be legal.

Despite such momentum, ethicists, federal agencies and even some mainstream media outlets are warning of serious consequences of further legalization of the mind-altering drug.

Barrett Duke, a Southern Baptist public policy specialist, said it is troubling to see so many states weakening their laws on marijuana use because they are “embracing a drug that has already revealed its destructive character.”

“Marijuana is not a harmless drug. It is an addictive substance that interferes with relationships, health and productivity,” Duke, vice president for public policy and research with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press.

Marijuana also is a poor pain reliever, Duke said.

“Many people are going to be deeply disappointed when they discover that their use of marijuana has increased the number of problems they are dealing with while doing practically nothing to alleviate their suffering,” Duke said.

“Years of controlled study are still needed before marijuana is unleashed on the public as a cure for anything. The current lapse in judgment will not end well for many millions of unsuspecting people.”

The editors of Bloomberg View July 20 called on Congress to heed what scientists have to say about marijuana, noting that “the political discussions involved in this process have been dominated by stories of heartbreaking suffering and frightening drug abuse.”

“Largely missing from the debate has been the most essential element: scientific evidence suggesting that marijuana does anything to alleviate physical suffering,” Bloomberg View said.

The editorial referenced a study released in June that found “weak evidence to support using marijuana to treat many conditions for which states have approved it.”

“Pot is not harmless, after all,” Bloomberg View wrote. “… To treat medical marijuana as a stalking horse for full legalization, as many of its advocates do, is plainly irresponsible. Protecting public health and safety requires arming both patients and lawmakers with better information.”

As Bloomberg noted, voters in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia have approved the recreational use of marijuana, and legal sales of the drug — approved for medical use in 23 states — brought in an estimated $2 billion nationwide last year.

Five more states that already approved medical marijuana are considering legalizing its recreational use even as the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse warns that the amount of the mind-altering chemical THC in marijuana has been increasing steadily over the past few decades and may explain a rise in emergency room visits involving the drug’s use.

“The popularity of edibles also increases the chance of users having harmful reactions,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported. “Edibles take longer to digest and produce a high. Therefore, people may consume more to feel the effects faster, leading to dangerous results.”

Following is a brief roundup of recent marijuana-related developments:

— The Marijuana Policy Project, the largest organization in the United States focused solely on marijuana decriminalization, launched a voter guide to the 2016 presidential race detailing candidates’ positions on marijuana policy and assigning them grades based on where they stand.

Sen. Rand Paul, R.-Ky., received the highest grade, an A-, “based largely on his sponsorship of a medical marijuana bill, his support for reducing marijuana-related penalties, and his strong support for allowing states to regulate marijuana for adult use.”

Gov. Chris Christie, R.-N.J., and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R.-Pa., received Fs because they oppose legalization efforts and are the most vocal supporters of enforcing federal marijuana laws.

The voter guide is online at mpp.org/president.

— The Senate Appropriations Committee July 23 approved a measure intended to prevent the U.S. Treasury Department from punishing banks that provide financial services to marijuana businesses operating legally under state laws.

“Many banks are currently unwilling to provide depository and other basic banking services to marijuana businesses because the substance is still illegal under federal law,” the Marijuana Policy Project said. “Federal, state and local law enforcement and other government officials say marijuana businesses need to have access to banking because operating entirely in cash raises significant public safety concerns.”

MPP said it was unclear whether the amendment would actually make it to President Obama’s desk.

The same committee in June approved a measure prohibiting the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws. That amendment is thought to have a better chance of being included in the final spending bill Congress sends to the president.

And in May, the appropriations committee voted to allow doctors within the Veterans Affairs system to formally recommend medical marijuana to veterans.

— Delaware in June became the 20th state in the nation to remove the threat of jail time for possessing a small amount of marijuana. Residents of Delaware will be able to possess up to an ounce of the drug and use it privately without facing criminal penalties. Police will be allowed to confiscate the drug, though, and a $100 civil fine can be assigned.

Passage of the bill was strictly along party lines, the Delaware News Journal reported, with no Republicans voting in favor of the legislation in the House or Senate.

Gov. Jack Markell signed the bill just hours after the legislature approved it, with a spokeswoman saying the governor “remains committed to reducing the number of people entering the criminal justice system and refocusing resources where they are needed most.”

— A Dutch study of college students found their test scores — particularly in math — improved by about 5 percent when they were no longer permitted to purchase marijuana.

“We find that the performance of students who lose legal access to cannabis improves substantially,” the authors of the study, two economists at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, said, according to Business Insider.

“Our analysis of underlying channels suggests that the effects are specifically driven by an improvement in numerical skills, which existing literature has found to be particularly impaired by cannabis consumption,” the authors said.

“This provides perhaps the first clear causal evidence of an important positive effect on short term productivity of restricting legal access to cannabis. Our findings also imply that individuals do change their consumption behavior when the legal status of a drug changes.”

    About the Author

  • Erin Roach