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Op-Ed: Rush to Marijuana Legalization for Recreational Use Ignores Real Public Health and Safety Concerns

Marijuana is not as harmless as some who favor legalization claim, and the science is clear. The National Institutes of Health, the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic and the World Health Organization all agree that marijuana is an addictive substance that can trigger dependency and withdrawal symptoms. 

By Sen. Judy Ward (R-30) 

There has been a lot of news surrounding the recent Senate Law and Justice Committee hearings regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana, and as a member of that committee, I am concerned about the discussions that have taken place. The hearings have seemed one-sided, and the topics covered have been used to advance recreational marijuana legislation rather than provide a thorough vetting of all aspects of this controversial issue. 

Marijuana is not as harmless as some who favor legalization claim, and the science is clear. The National Institutes of Health, the Mayo Clinic, the Cleveland Clinic and the World Health Organization all agree that marijuana is an addictive substance that can trigger dependency and withdrawal symptoms. 

Research from the National Institute of Drug Abuse concludes marijuana use doubles a person’s risk for developing opioid addiction and that four in 10 users will abuse harder drugs in their lifetime. The statistics are worse when it comes to our youth. Sixty percent of new marijuana users each year are under age 18, and marijuana is the number one reason adolescents are admitted to substance-abuse treatment in the United States.

Aside from the physical consequences to the individual using the marijuana, there are real consequences to the community as well. We only need to look to other states to see that commercializing the sale of addictive marijuana products comes with more crime and more DUIs. For example, a 50-year study found that marijuana use is linked to seven times greater odds of subsequent violent crime. In Colorado and Washington, DUI fatalities involving marijuana have more than doubled over the last decade. Colorado has also seen a rise in marijuana-related emergency room visits among teens and reports the highest rate of first-time users under the age of 18 in the nation. 

To insist that marijuana use comes with zero risk of dependency is contradicted by science and the medical community. The American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society all stand opposed to legalization. And the list goes on. 

There are many consequences to legalizing marijuana, and they are not all good.  These consequences can be harmful and dangerous to ourselves, our children, and our communities.  They must be thoroughly vetted before making such a huge policy change that will affect us for years to come.  

I welcome the discussion surrounding adult-use legalization, but I urge caution among my fellow lawmakers who may be apt to vote “yes” without considering the long-term consequences. 

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