Regulation And Commercialization Of Recreational Marijuana Raises Concerns About Adolescent Health

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Rising number of adolescents smoking pot.  Credit: Tomas Rodriguez/Corbis

Although medical marijuana has been legalized in Maryland, a controversial bill  has recently been introduced into the Maryland State legislature to legalize, tax and regulate the possession and recreational use of marijuana for adults. Six out of ten Marylanders  now favor further legalization of the recreational use of marijuana. Although several groups oppose this measure and argue it would lead to addiction and be a gateway to other drugs, the evidence is rather weak .  The decriminalization of marijuana has overcome great harms including unfair incarcerations, especially affecting young people who were burdened with a criminal record and significant racial disparity for marijuana possession.   Benefits of further legalization and regulation will control the quality and safety of the product, eliminate criminal dealers, provide jobs, develop a profitable industry and large tax base, and focus law enforcement resources on more pressing problems. The legalization of marijuana in several states has not led to significant adverse effects.  However, we should consider that recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has taken a strong stance against the legalization of marijuana arguing that this will lead to a significant increase in its use by adolescents which will adversely affect adolescent neurological development.

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Altered brain function smoking marijuana.  Credit: Ashtari et al, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

 

We support the further legalization and regulation of sales of marijuana for recreational use in the state of Maryland for adults, but recommend that the bill provide increased funding through the Maryland Department of Health to educate the public, youth and parents about the potential harmful effects of marijuana use by adolescents. This should include large media campaigns, increased educational programs in schools and counseling by pediatricians to their adolescent patients and their parents

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3 Responses to “Regulation And Commercialization Of Recreational Marijuana Raises Concerns About Adolescent Health”

  1. Charles Neal Says:

    As public health professionals we should not support political or economic policies that advocate for recreational use of marijuana.
    There is not good research on the medical effects of marijuana on the body. Until we understand more about the medical effects, such as low birth weight babies born to mothers who smoke marijuana and other public health impacts of marijuana, public health professionals should not recommend recreational use to any individual.

    We need to be very concerned as public health officials about political and economic policies of recreational marijuana. During an October 2016, 60 Minutes interview, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper “urges caution” to other states considering legalization of recreational marijuana. One of Governor Hickenlooper’s concerns is deceptive and dangerous industry marketing tactics of marijuana. Tactics that market marijuana as edible candies, or flavors and advertise with cartoon characters are dangerous to the public’s health, especially children, minorities, and the poor. These are the same tactics the tobacco industry used to promote tobacco to kids, advertising menthol flavored cigarettes to poor minorities, and influence kids with cartoons.

    We do not know enough about the medical effects of marijuana. As public health professionals, we should not have to make arguments upstream to convince our kids not to smoke marijuana and it is not the pediatricians’ responsibility to warn patients and their parents about poor public health policies that support recreational use of marijuana. Safe-guards need to be in place for the public’s health before we make any recommendation for recreational use of marijuana.

  2. rachelsinit Says:

    I agree with your point that marijuana should be legalized for recreational use and there should be strong youth educational campaign accompanying the legalization to reduce potential risks to adolescents. Oregon recently legalized marijuana for recreational use and now we are about to regulate, tax, and track marijuana. It is still too early to tell what the public health impacts are but so far, I believe the changes have been minor (an increase in marijuana-impaired drivers and more calls to the Oregon Poison Center) (http://www.oregonlive.com/marijuana/index.ssf/2016/06/oregon_marks_1_year_anniversar.html). The most serious issue that Oregonians need to tackle now is the increasing use of recreational marijuana in young adults which is why I strongly agree with your point on also increasing youth education as well.
    I also believe that there should be regulations (if there aren’t already) in place similar to the tobacco industry regulations (https://betobaccofree.hhs.gov/laws/) to prevent people from starting its use, limit its promotion to children, prevent its use of fruity flavors, etc. This would also add another layer of protection for young adults against influences of the marijuana industry.
    Another reason why I am interested in recreational marijuana to be legalized is to allow opportunities for researchers to look into its long-term effects and potential health benefits (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28254350, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28245077). Although this may be complicated by its legality at the federal level, I think it starts opening up new avenues for its medicinal use and hopefully will be able to help individuals.

  3. massahmassaquoi Says:

    Great post! I agree with your position for the legalization of marijuana in the State of Maryland for both recreational and medical use. When it comes to adolescent use of marijuana I believe the country is shifting in a way that marijuana use in general has become destigmatized. This maybe contributing to the increased support of legalization of the recreational use of marijuana.

    I also think of cities that have legalized marijuana and the changes in their economy, use and views among adolescents. A recent JAMA article reports increased marijuana use among adolescents in some states that have legalized recreational marijuana and decreased in those who have not legalized http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/2593707. While in Denver, CO there was no change in how young people perceived the harmfulness of marijuana. This is a valid concern among stakeholders, however Colorado’s results should be highlighted since this state legalized recreational use of marijuana far longer than any other state. Marylander’s should prepare to see this increase among youth, with this in mind, various educational systems should be put in place to educate youth and families about the outcomes of recreational marijuana.

    I am from Massachusetts, where recreational marijuana use has been recently legalized. A concern from unlawful marijuana distributers is the increased tax and punishment to those who do not have the infrastructure to establish legal dispensaries. Law’s against marijuana distribution have a history of targeting communities of color negatively, penalizing those individuals harsher than white individuals. With legalization risking across the US, Marylanders should also refocus on how these bills are written into law as to not disproportionally favor certain communities over others.

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