I’ve written a lot concerning my change of heart regarding marijuana, leading to my pro-legalization stance. Observing the myriad of cannabis users around me both within the industry and outside of it, I see people successfully using cannabis, whether for recreational or medicinal purposes, who remain highly functioning, healthy members of society. Additionally, and arguably more important, from a medical perspective cannabis can range from offering hope to those suffering debilitating chronic illnesses, to saving the lives of those who have no other viable medicinal alternative. The road to cannabis legalization is serious stuff, encompassing a variety of issues, and the potential net positive impact on our society in a legalized United States cannot be underestimated.
To give context of where we stand today, a recent 2015 Gallop Poll states “A majority of Americans continue to say marijuana use should be legal in the United States, with 58% holding that view.” As times are changing and overall stigma is reduced, the tide is turning away from a ‘Just Say No’ sentiment. The overwhelming exception to this however are conservative voters, many over the age of 65 who still hold the belief that marijuana is uniformly bad for society.
My personal belief is that every mom in America should understand the potential positive impact cannabis legalization could have on society overall. As a mother of three, I clearly understand the issues and stigmas mothers may hold against marijuana. These range from concerns over child welfare, an increase in crime, and a firmly held belief that marijuana is a gateway drug, to name just a handful. Fortunately, we do have data points to call upon from research and strong anecdotal evidence (clinical trials have been strictly limited due to federal regulation). Both California and Colorado have progressively embraced legalization, and along the way have proven that marijuana legalization does not lead to the degradation of society. The bottom line, supporting the marijuana movement has many positive effects on society.
Below are my top reasons for supporting cannabis legalization:
Cannabis Treats Numerous Medical Conditions
It’s an unfortunate truth that humans get sick and require medical attention. New information and reports are being released almost on a weekly basis on the positive effects cannabis has on such serious conditions as Cancer, Epilepsy, PTSD, Chronic Pain, Crohn’s Disease, Arthritis, as well as many, many more.
Thousands of families across America are having to face the tough choice to pick up and move to Colorado in order to treat their children with rare and deadly forms of epilepsy. NFL players are battling the establishment to be allowed to use marijuana to combat their chronic pain, arthritis and brain injuries in lieu of opiates. Small children with aggressive forms of cancer have been treated successfully (in conjunction with chemo) with cannabis. Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide in the US and yet all evidence supports that marijuana may be the best treatment for PTSD. This is backed by research by the world-renowned Israeli cannabis scientist Raphael Mechoulam, Ph.D., who has dedicated his life to studying the effects of marijuana.
On a daily basis we see patients come to HelloMD who are at the end of their rope, where standard Western medical treatment has failed or has not done enough to help them. Patients should have the access and the choice to try marijuana for their medical condition, because in many cases, it is not only a viable option that improves overall quality of life, it can literally save a life. If you get sick, or a family member gets sick, shouldn’t you be able to legally make this choice yourself or a loved one? It is indisputable at this point that marijuana has far ranging medicinal benefits, which millions of Americans may benefit from.
Realm of Caring, a medically oriented non profit in Colorado, provides links to information and research on various medical conditions and has established itself as a gold standard for education, advocacy and research in the industry. Additionally, United Patients Group in California helps patients with specific conditions. If you would like to learn more about the medicinal benefits of cannabis, this is a great place to start.
Cannabis Can Replace Addictive Opiates
This past February, President Obama announced an additional $1.1 billion dollars in new funding to address prescription opioid abuse and heroin addiction. To give an indication of how serious this is 28,648 deaths were attributed to this affliction in 2014 alone. Broken down, 46 people die every single day in the US. During his address, Obama failed to mention cannabis as a possible tool to be used to combat the problem.
Medical cannabis can help combat the symptoms that lead people to start using opiates (and sometimes heroin) to begin with. These can include Chronic Pain, Neuropathic Pain, AIDS, and the list goes on. A study by the Journal of the America Medical Association says, “States that implemented medical marijuana laws appear to have lower annual opioid analgesic overdose death rates (both from prescription pain killers and illicit drugs such as heroin) than states without such laws.” It’s also important to note that cannabis is not associated with the multitude of negative side effects so often associated with opiates.
In addition, using medical marijuana shows excellent promise in helping people detox off their addiction from both opiate and heroin use. Although more studies need to be done in this area, an article by NORML states, “Cannabis consumption is associated with mitigated symptoms of opiate withdrawal in subjects undergoing methadone maintenance treatment.”
Anecdotally, at HelloMD we consistently hear from people using marijuana in lieu of opiates for pain and other chronic conditions. Our recent study which included 1400 participants, showed that 66% of participants polled use marijuana as the primary method for treating their medical condition. 84% said they felt it successfully addressed their condition. For us, it creates a sense of hope when patients let us know that cannabis has helped them get off opiates and or avoid them altogether. Patients in our study reported almost zero negative side effects from using marijuana. That is good news.
Cannabis Legalization Results in Safer Cannabis & Reduces Black Market Trade
42% of American adults admit to having used cannabis. Your child, at some point, will be offered marijuana and he or she may decide to partake. There is an enormous amount of cannabis ingested in the US that is purchased illegally with unknown origins. Unfortunately, cannabis that is not lab tested is often full of nasty chemicals, which can adversely affect your health. This includes microbial material such as ecoli, carcinogenic phospholoads, pesticides, residual solvents and even deadly neurotoxins. An interesting fact is that most of these chemicals can be traced directly back to the chemicals available at your local garden store. A legalized system leads to government-mandated regulation, which equates to safer consumables and responsible growing practices.
Before the wider spread legalization of marijuana in the U.S., most cannabis bought and sold here had been grown in and smuggled from Mexico. As you know, drug cartels have zero concern about the actual consumer. By taking an anti-cannabis stance you are inadvertently supporting a black market that is foundationally supported by Mexican drug cartels that care about the survival of their crops at any cost and the overall profits to be made. You can be against personal cannabis use while at the same time supporting a regulated system that protects the safety of a vast number of consumers. One of the bright linings on legalization is that the price of marijuana has dropped, leading to much less cannabis crossing the border via Mexican smugglers.
Cannabis is Less Harmful Than Alcohol
Most people who drink do not like to hear this, but marijuana has less adverse effects on society and your health than alcohol consumption. Fifteen percent of people who drink alcohol will end up addicted. Addiction rates for marijuana stand at about 9%. Withdrawal symptoms from marijuana are far less severe than those from alcohol, which includes vomiting and even seizures.
According to the NIH, there is plenty to be concerned about with alcohol consumption. While moderate amounts can protect adults from coronary disease and aid in relaxation, chronic use and overuse can lead to stretching and drooping of heart muscle, irregular heartbeat, stroke and high blood pressure. Drinking can also lead to liver dysfunction including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. Alcohol is also a known to cause cancer particularly of the mouth, throat, breast, esophagus and liver. Lastly, drinking reduces the power of your immune system to fight off disease.
The collateral damage of alcohol includes 10,000 road deaths every year, and nearly 1.4 million people arrested for DUIs. According to the NPAMC, “40% of state prisoners convicted of violent crimes were under the influence of alcohol at the time of their offense − the more violent the crime, the greater the likelihood that alcohol was involved.” Also, “the incidence of other alcohol-involved crimes including domestic violence, underage drinking, and assault has reached staggering proportions.”
88,000 people die every year from alcohol abuse according to the CDC. There is not a recorded incident of a person overdosing on marijuana. To die from marijuana you need to eat 38% of your body weight, and that is a lot of marijuana. Marijuana’s health benefits for medicinal users far outweigh negatives. Cannabis does react differently with different people and typical negative side effects that are reported might be a sense of lethargy, paranoia and possibly anxiety. However, interestingly it also seems to help many people with anxiety as well.
Marijuana is NOT a Gateway Drug – Alcohol IS
A recent article in Newsweek elaborates on findings that conclude that marijuana is NOT a gateway drug. However, new evidence supports that alcohol IS a gateway drug. “The common government stance within the US is that alcohol is a gateway drug. This means that a user first starts drinking and then moves on to harder substances, such as cannabis and heroin, later on in life.” We grew up being told a very different story than this, so mentally it is hard for many people to absorb this new finding.
Cannabis Legalization Results in Enormous Revenue for States & A Lot of Jobs
Colorado has been the biggest proving ground as one of the first truly legalized states. In the first 18 months of legalization CNN Money reports, $610 million dollars was generated, $184 million of which resulted from tax revenue. Much of this money resulted in programs to teach kids how to stay away from marijuana. Other uses for the money went towards public health, regulatory oversight, enforcement and general education.
Children’s education in regards to cannabis is important whether cannabis is legalized in your state or not. Kids, especially teenagers, have access to cannabis more frequently than is regularly acknowledged. Having state run programs that create a thoughtful dialogue is of the utmost importance.
Cannabis also creates jobs, and lots of them. Legal cannabis states, such as Colorado, experienced a bump in overall employment, correlating directly to the growth of the industry. Colorado Pot Guide noted that “Colorado job growth increased more than the national average by about one percent in 2014. This growth is largely accounted for by newly-developed cannabis positions such as bud tenders, trimmers and edible manufactures, but also includes an increase in construction, engineering and marketing jobs.” An estimated 200,000 new jobs were projected from 2015 through 2016 in the state of Colorado. Drug Policy Alliance states “Estimated annual revenue that California would raise if it taxed and regulated the sale of marijuana: $1,400,000,000”.
Illegal Cannabis Wastes Police Resources
The ‘War on Drugs’, which includes cannabis, has been a costly failure and resulting in more than $51,000,000,000 spent annually, with little to show for it. According to Drug Policy Alliance our states collectively spent an estimated $3.6 billion enforcing marijuana possession laws. In 2014 there were 700,993 marijuana drug arrests made in the US, which comprises almost half of all drug arrests made. 87% of those arrests were for simple possession. These is a dramatic drain on our police task force, which takes police away from serious crimes such as murder, rape, and first call response. When people are arrested for marijuana, they are handcuffed and taken to the police station where more churn occurs including the creation of a permanent criminal record, which often affects a person’s employment. All of this for a drug that has never caused an overdose and which anecdotally, does not seem to spur on any type of violent crime.
Keeping cannabis illegal also has a disproportionately negative impact on the minority populations. It is no secret that our jails are filled to the brim with young African American males. According to a 2012 ACLU report “Black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people despite comparable usage rates. Furthermore, in counties with the worst disparities, Blacks were as much as 30 times more likely to be arrested.”
Alternet states “Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas reported that the enactment of laws legalizing people’s access to medical marijuana is not associated with any rise in statewide criminal activity, and that it may even be related to reductions in incidences of violent crime.”
You Can Use Cannabis & Not Get Stoned or be a “Stoner”
This last point is an important one and part of general education surrounding cannabis use. There are many ways to receive medicinal benefits from cannabis without having the effect of being high or stoned. There is only one cannabinoid within cannabis that creates the psychedelic effect known as ‘getting high’ and this is THC. There are over 80 cannabinoids within the cannabis plant, including the well-known CBD (Cannabidiol) and none of them will get you high. Many cannabis products on the market today contain small amounts of THC or even no THC. A common misconception is that you must smoke cannabis, & many people still choose to do so. There are many alternatives to smoking which includes topicals, transdermal patches, drinks, edibles, sub lingual sprays, suppositories, tinctures and even bath soaks. This is often hard for people to understand, given what they have been taught to believe historically. I ingest cannabis on a daily basis and I almost never choose to get ‘head high’, as I like to say. Said differently, I don’t get stoned.
Many people voice concern that by legalizing recreational use we will pave the way to a ‘doped up’ society. Colorado though has been an interesting proving ground on this. In Colorado, recreation/retail sales are split from medicinal sales. Stats have shown that medicinal sales easily outpace recreational sales. A Wired article gives some interesting stats on this and states, "Medicinal dispensaries sold nearly three times the amount of bud: 109,600 pounds, compared to the nearly 37,000 pounds sold to recreational buyers." At HelloMD, our research leads us to believe that the recreational market will ultimately hover at around 13% of the total market, the other consumers will primarily be medicinal users.
The Mess That Illegal Cannabis Creates
A recent Brookings Essay sums up the mess that is created by keeping cannabis illegal:
“Reform should take government out of the doctor‐patient relationship entirely. It should also ensure that when a doctor decides that medical marijuana could help a patient, the government would not obstruct safe access to the drug. Medical marijuana policy in the United States is putting Americans at risk. The federal government keeps people who live in states that don’t have medical marijuana programs from accessing a product that could benefit their health. And even as it prevents some people from having it, it erects barriers against research into the safety and efficacy of a product used by tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people who do live in states that have legalized it.”
Many pro cannabis folks will say that legalization is a fait accompli, as more and more states continue to lean towards legalization. Seeing the mercurial nature of how laws and regulations are enacted state to state today though, this is not necessarily the case. As we watch states legalize to one extent or another, each state behaves and reacts differently, creating wildly different implementations. Many states, such as New York, take such timid steps towards medical legalization that the end result are impotent laws and regulations that serve no one.
My belief is that all moms should be educated on the positive aspects of cannabis legalization. Cannabis is not a panacea but neither is it the demon that so many portray it to be. I realize not everyone will agree with my pro legalization stance, and that is OK. Our society is in the midst of an extreme shift and not everyone will be on board with these progressive changes. Ultimately though, if mothers across the United States were to be pro-cannabis, legalization would happen even more quickly leading to rapid and wide spread legalization across the US. My hope is that you will join me.