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Much like Big Tobacco, the billion-dollar commercial marijuana industry cares more about making a profit than protecting public health.

Cannabis promoters have been making use of their hefty advertising budgets to convince voters in five states — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada — that legalizing recreational marijuana will not only be economically beneficial to the state but will also help save lives. The latter is a frightening and misleading claim. Here’s why.

Proponents argue that legalizing recreational marijuana reduces opioid abuse and overdose death. A recent article in STAT pointed to a 2015 white paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggesting that access to medical marijuana was associated with a 16 percent decrease in opioid overdose deaths and a 28 percent reduction in opioid abuse treatment admissions.


What the findings of that study don’t showcase are the increases in traffic fatalities, hospitalizations, and marijuana-related poisonings following the legalization of recreational marijuana. In Washington state, for example, the number of traffic deaths due to marijuana-impaired drivers doubled in the year after recreational marijuana was legalized. In Colorado, the number of fatal accidents involving marijuana rose by 62 percent since its recreational use was legalized in 2012.

Law enforcement officers can rely on Breathalyzer tests to identify drunk drivers. But there’s no equivalent for drugged drivers, making it difficult to deter or punish them.


In Colorado, marijuana-related hospitalizations have increased an average of 30 percent a year since legalization. Marijuana-related poisonings also rose sharply in both Colorado and Washington.

Just as secondhand tobacco smoke can harm individuals who don’t smoke, marijuana can also harm nonusers. If the new laws pass, they would authorize the promotion and sale of highly potent marijuana edibles, including candy, cookies, and soda. These account for nearly half of all marijuana sold in Colorado. Edible forms of marijuana pose a particular risk for kids and pets.

Advertisements for Pot Tarts, Hashees cups, and cannabis gummy bears will become as common as the soft drink promotions targeted at the youth market. No limits have been placed on the potency of edible products in Colorado, nor will such limits be written into the proposed laws in most of the states looking to legalize marijuana. Edible products have been known to have levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, reaching as high as 95 percent, compared to 20 percent to 30 percent generally found in marijuana plants.

Writing in JAMA Pediatrics, doctors at Children’s Hospital in Denver reported that after recreational marijuana was legalized, its emergency department began treating one to two kids a month for accidental marijuana ingestion, mostly from edibles. Before legalization, the hospital hadn’t treated any kids for this.

Proponents of legalizing recreational marijuana use argue that it will save lives by giving people an alternative to opioids for pain relief. What they don’t consider is the detrimental impact of recreational marijuana on youths. When Colorado legalized marijuana, it became the number one state in the country for teen marijuana use, with teen rates jumping over 12 percent. In both Washington state and Colorado, the illegal black market for drugs has exploded, with organized crime groups growing large amounts of marijuana illegally in Colorado homes and shipping it across the US, increasing youth access to the drug.

While using marijuana by itself is unlikely to be life-threatening at any age, it can cause serious problems. Numerous studies have linked marijuana use to mental health problems including increased rates of anxiety, mood, and psychotic thought disorders. Marijuana use is also associated with relationship problems, poor academic performance, employment issues, and lower life satisfaction. With the increased potency of marijuana, these problems are even more significant for today’s users.

Marijuana use during adolescence is especially damaging in terms of impaired cognitive function, including memory issues, learning deficits, and lower IQs, all of which can persist into adulthood. Despite that, the majority of high school seniors don’t believe that regular marijuana smoking is harmful. In fact, only 36 percent believe regular use puts the user at great risk, compared to 52 percent five years ago. Nearly 1 in 15 high school seniors use marijuana on a daily basis, while 21 percent of all 12th-graders report using marijuana in the past month. Also, more young people seek treatment for marijuana abuse or dependence than for use of alcohol and all other drugs.

When states legalize recreational marijuana, fatalities increase and the lives of children and teenagers are put at stake.

Kurt Isaacson is president and CEO of Spectrum Health Systems, a private, not-for-profit substance abuse and mental health treatment provider.

  • Kids can already get all the pot they want and by getting it on the street they may be ingesting unidentified mushrooms from Mexico that have had the devastating effect of self induced schizophrenia that cannot be cured with any medications. If your kids are doing marijuana you need to find out and stop them any way you can. It also affects male hormonal distribution during puberty evidenced by interference in the normal development of an Adam’s apple in young men. Any child can buy this dangerous cocktail on the street or at their school and by legalizing it we will have lots of money for drug and ALCOHOL abuse education.

  • Did you know the largest financial support AGAINST legalization of marijuana has come from the big pharma company that makes the Fentanyl pain medicine? This should tell you all you need to know. You do not have to SMOKE to receive the medicinal benefits of this medication that has been cultivated and used by the human family for 9,000 years!

  • Apparently, the commenters here have not witnessed the devastation from today’s turbo-charged psychoactive strains of THC-marijuana upon young, developing brains ( thru at least the late twenties) as parents, including myself, have tragically seen firsthand in our own kids. Yes, that’s correct, healthy, accomplished, young people who had no forewarning that potent pot can lead, especially over time, to a suite of psychiatric harms. And most of our families have no history of any severe mental illnesses ( schizophrenia or manic-depression/bipolar) & with cannabis so ubiquitous in our culture this young generation believes the pot industry ( supported by many celebs, politicians, professional athletes often who have ulterior pot profit ventures themselves) lies about how harmless, natural & medicinal pot is for everyone. Not true, as this writer has truthfully written. It’s why I founded a website, earlier this year, to support parents whose kids have fallen out to the dark side of pot. Trust me, you never want to witness the hijacking of a young person’s brain, but it’s happening & going to continue until people stop ignoring their anecdotal experiences, read the myriad of evidence based scientific studies, and update your knowledge- read & listen to the proof from physicians in Pueblo, CO who just held a “Code Red” conference 10-20-16 about the horrors their town is dealing who from recreational pot, listen to the ER physician ( Med Director) at Scripps Hospital in San Diego, CA tell about what all ERs are seeing, daily, because of the HARMS from pot use: “home” page & look at the category Online Videos of Moms Strong. You may save a young life, possibly someone you love & cherish.

    • Kids are falling by the dark side for a reason. The reason is not because marijuana exists. We as a society need to look at the big picture. We need to and stop focusing on one piece of the pie which will insure we fail to help our young people lead happy healthy lives. We need to develop programs that will arm them with the knowledge and skills they need to survive in an extremely complex world.

  • The things several of you said reflect a complete and total lack of knowledge or understanding regarding the subject matter. I apologize that I have provided objective facts that challenge your fantastical and ridiculous perceptions of your beloved drug of abuse, but some of us who actually spend our time serving the well being of others have legitimate concerns about the health impact of this law, like it or not.

    • Sorry sir. The history of cannabis Prohibition is founded in racism, stoked by the fires of outright fictional propaganda (The Reefer Madness you’re propagating 80 years later), and solidified by Nixon’s personal hatred for the substance you echo.
      You can resist all you want to but this is happening. Get on board or don’t, we will continue to decide for ourselves what we want. You’re fighting against the will of the people and for all your pomp and circumstance you have failed.

  • Well Doctors make big bucks off big Pharma and will get nothing out of legalization.
    I’ve served as an elected District Attorney in Conservative Texas. Every DA is on a limited budget. We have to make choices. I believe in strict punishment for violent offenders and burglars. I rarely gave probation. Unfortunately we had to deal with all these annoying pot cases. Even when pot users got probation the understaffed probation officers had to make sure they were in by 10PM – I’d rather they checked on sex offenders.]
    Revenues are another reason to legalize. The Washington Post reports for 2015 Colorado gained 18,000 pot-related jobs and $2.4 billion in revenue. 2016 will be much better.

    Use among teens has not increased both according to surveys from the Denver Post and Federal Government.

    Its best to vote “Yes”.

  • Ya, you’re not providing any props to Harvard if you’re so dis-informed as to be claiming all the propaganda cited in this article to true as cited… all that education – what a waste, what a waste?

  • Everything is scientifically accurate? No it’s not. Teen use has decreased. Testing for THC after an accident has “no valid scientific relationship” according to the AAA, and every other person that knows how it works. And once again, the point completely missed that legalization isn’t about giving millions of people access to marijuana. It’s a result of an epic failure called the war on drugs, that has had no impact, other than to ruin countless lives and waste trillions (not billions) or our tax dollars to fight the way. Pro legalization does not mean pro-pot. And that’s complete BS on the science industry and smoking. Just like today, that’s because scientist were paid off by the tobacco industry to publish mis-leading reports. But for cannabis, they’re still lying, only their lying about it being a gateway drug, being highly addictive, having no medicinal value, etc….. Lastly, the world is filled with dangers. Driving, swimming, biking, sky diving, drinking, eating bad, etc… Yet we allow people to live their lives when they are not causing harm to others. Why doesn’t that apply to cannabis? Remember America, when a toddler shoots and kills his dad by accident, it’s not the gun’s fault. But if you smoked a doobie 3 weeks ago, then drive drunk, it will be the pots fault you got in an accident. Hypocrisy 101.

  • I’m never surprised when the people with a vested interest in prohibition start repeating old tired disproven mistruths.

    Btw: the data you used from the RMHIDTA is known to be flawed. Not too many people trust that source.

    • What about all the other sources? The studies showing relationships increased rates of major and minor illness, the studies showing cognitive difficulties and loss of IQ, the studies showing social difficulties such as job difficulties and relationship difficulties, the studies showing difficulty with executive functioning and the growing number of fMRI studies that show structural and functional changes in the brain, just to name a few? How many sources can you write off as “flawed data” before you see that all this data is pointing in one direction: A Brain toxic substance! Every paper or study is flawed in some way that is exactly why it took generations to prove the causality between cancer and tobacco smoking, one of the most irrefutable relationships in medicine. Any epidemiologist will agree that because these studies have some methodolgical flaws does not in any way invalidate them. That many different studies of many different methods all point to one common thread: The adverse of affects of marijuana on brain and behavior. It can not and should not be ignored when considering legalization of marijuana.

  • As I read these comments I must laugh. As a physician and graduate of Harvard School of Public Health, everything in this article is scientifically accurate and it raises important concerns about this issue that should be carefully considered before voting. I for one like most physicians will be voting No because I think Marijuna use is a much, much bigger deal than popular culture would lead many to believe

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