Medical Marijuana: The Facts Last week Representative Tom Trail, R-Moscow, sponsored House Bill 19, the Idaho Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act which would establish a legal medical marijuana program in Idaho. This bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee chaired by Rich Willis. As lawmakers begin to review information and contemplate this proposed legislation, the Mayor’s Anti-Drug Coalition believes it is vital that lawmakers and citizens have the latest data concerning medical marijuana.
As Idaho begins the medical marijuana discussion, it is vital we note the effects this type of legislation has had in other states. Since Colorado legalized marijuana for medicinal use, the Denver Health Medical Center reports that treatment referrals have tripled. Additionally, 83 percent of teens who use marijuana daily share that they obtained it from a medical marijuana patient (CADCA, 2011). Likewise, data collected through the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (SAMHSA, 2008) reveal the following:
All five top states, and ten of the fifteen stateswith the highest percentage of past month marijuana users ages (12-17) are states with medical marijuana programs. These states listed by ranking include:
3.) Rhode Island
5.) New Mexico
Medical marijuana states now occupy all four top states, and eight of the top thirteen
states with the highest rates for new marijuana initiates ages (12-17). These states listed
The medical marijuana ballot initiative states are clustered at or near the top of the list in
terms of drug addiction and abuse. Medical marijuana ballot-initiative states occupy five
of the top six slots, and ten of the top eighteen slots in ranking of drug addiction and
abuse ages (12-17). These states listed by ranking include:
1.) Rhode Island
5.) New Mexico
Medical marijuana states rank as thirteen of the lowest twenty states for the perception
of risk for smoking marijuana once a month ages (12 - 17). These states listed by
39.) New Mexico
48.) Rhode Island
Clearly, states with medical marijuana programs are experiencing increased use among youth. Idaho can expect similar results should the legislature adopt HB 19, as research has consistently shown that as attitudes soften towards a drug, use by youth increases.
Marijuana: Medicine or Dangerous Drug? Despite the fact that many pro-marijuana interest groups consistently argue the safety of the substance, marijuana is a dependence-producing drug and this dependence and the related addictive behaviors have been well documented in the marijuana literature (Voth, 2003). From 1997 to 2007, the number of persons aged 12 or older in treatment for
marijuana dependence and abuse increased 45%. In addition, in 2007, 60.8% of all youth ages (12-15), and 55.9% of ages (15-19) admitted for drug and alcohol treatment were admitted for marijuana abuse (SAMHSA, 2007).
According to Eric A. Voth, M.D., FACP, “Smoking an impure and toxic substance is of questionable value in the modern medical armamentarium. It is no more reasonable to consider crude marijuana a medical treatment than it is to consider tobacco as medicine.” Additionally, it has long been known that the use of marijuana is frequently a gateway to the use of more dangerous illicit drugs. Data shows that the use of cocaine and heroin is almost always preceded by marijuana (Voth, 2003).
Gil Kerlikowske, the head of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy shared, “The bottom line is that increased access and availability to marijuana jeopardizes the health and safety of our citizens." He has also stated, “At a time when drug use in America is on the rise, we must focus our efforts on actions that will protect young people from the harms and consequences of illegal drug use instead of supporting initiatives that will make our nation’s drug problem worse.”
Popular Vote Versus Medicine Specific to state ballot initiatives concerning “medical” marijuana, Kerlikowske stated, “The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which studies and approves all medicines in the United States, has made very clear that the raw marijuana plant is not medicine, and any state considering medical marijuana should look very carefully at what has happened in California.” Researchers agree. Dr. Voth opined that bypassing FDA recommendations and processes is dangerous and unnecessary. He added, “The advocates for marijuana would have the public and policy makers incorrectly believe that crude marijuana is the only treatment alternative for large populations of patients who are inadequately treated for the nausea associated with chemotherapy, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and other ailments. Numerous effective medications are however currently available for conditions such as nausea. To date, no compelling data substantiates the existence of significant numbers of marginally treated or untreated patients for the maladies which marijuana is advanced” (Voth, 2003).
The Myth of Cost Savings
The idea has been advanced by the bill’s sponsor that a medical marijuana program in Idaho would result in a cost savings to Idaho of $20,000,000.00. Fortunately, Idaho already has two legal substances that are taxed, alcohol and tobacco, which assist us in arguing against the validity of this position. While alcohol and tobacco products are taxed and collected by the state, it is clearly documented that the taxes collected pale in comparison to the social and health care costs related to their use. (Please see the attached document for costs associated with substance abuse in Idaho).
Changing Social Norms
In 2010, illegal drug use rose to the highest level in nearly a decade, due in part to a significant increase in marijuana use. Kerlikowske was disappointed but not surprised given "eroding attitudes" about the perception of harm from illegal drugs and the growing number of states approving medicinal marijuana. "I think all of the attention and the focus of calling marijuana medicine has sent the absolute wrong message to our young people," Kerlikowske said.
This change in social norms may be the most alarming and longstanding result of legalizing medical marijuana. Research has long shown the correlation between increased social acceptance of a drug and increased use by youth. "The basic rule with any drug is if the drug becomes more available in the society, there will be more use of the drug," Thomas Crowley, a University of Colorado psychiatry professor and director of the university's Division of Substance Dependence, told The Denver Post. "And as use expands, there will be more people who have problems with the drug."
The correlation between decreases in perception of harm and social disapproval and increases in drug use is clear. What is more, research also demonstrates that the
most effective prevention reduces the access and availability of drugs and increases
consequences for use. With the most recent national data showing increases in drug use – particularly marijuana - as well as softening attitudes, legalizing medical marijuana will most certainly lead to a significant increase in marijuana use (Hananel, 2010).
Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) (January 2011). Colorado Sees Increase in Teen Pot Use. Retrieved on January 25, 2011 from http://www.cadca.org/resources/detail/colorado-sees-increase-teen-pot-use
Hananel, S. (2010). Illegal Drug Use is Higher than in Nearly a Decade, Report Finds. Associated Press, September 16, 2010.
Voth, E.A. (2003). A Peek Into Pandora’s Box: The Medical Excuse Marijuana Controversy. Journal of Addictive Diseases 22: 27-46.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (2007). Office of Applied Studies, Treatment Episode Data Set, Drug and Alcohol Services Information System Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) (2008). State Estimates from the 2006-2007 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health