Legalizing Marijuana, What Might the Future Hold?

With all the excitement and controversy swirling around the legalization of Marijuana, as a physician I have no choice but to consider what negative ramifications might be in store for our country. Here are just a few of the many issues we must all consider.

What could be the adverse health consequences of rampant and regular marijuana use? Over the past few years, studies have begun to demonstrate unfavorable psychiatric fallout from marijuana. Schizophrenia, and other disorders of psychosis, it seems can be expressed in predisposed individuals who utilize the drug. The incidence of schizophrenia is already one in a hundred. The toll this disease takes on not only the patient, but also the entire family, is enormous. A life-long disease with no cure in sight, schizophrenia leaves its victims unable to function adequately in society, often leading to homelessness and premature death. There is also of course an associated financial burden our society bears from the disease. Imagine then the consequence of even a minor uptick in the frequency of this disorder. Anyone who understands schizophrenia would agree that saying it would be horrific is a gross understatement.

Then there is heart disease. Just last week a study was published citing an association of marijuana with premature heart attacks. Right when doctors are making inroads into reducing heart disease, we may now be unleashing a new and previously unrecognized threat. Remember the days of the great cigarette ads, “LSMFT. Lucky Strike means fine tobacco.” In days of old, tobacco use was the norm; nearly everyone smoked. Socially, it was the thing to do. Then came the studies proving the relationship between tobacco and heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive lung disease, and of course death. Following the studies there were lawsuits. The tobacco industry paid dearly for being less than forthright about the potential downside of smoking. The attorneys did quite well, bringing in personal gains of a billion dollars. Tobacco’s victims however did not do so well.  Will marijuana become the tobacco of our future? Have we just begun yet another global experiment testing the effects of a substance on us, the American populace? If so, let’s at least prepare for the fallout.

To protect our society as best as we can, I propose the following. Wherever marijuana becomes legalized, set aside a large portion of tax revenue for future payment of medical expenses related to marijuana’s use. Also, be sure to allocate enough funds to cover the lawsuits that will surely follow our inevitable acceptance of marijuana’s health dangers. Perhaps not just the marijuana sellers will be held accountable. If a government earns revenue through taxation of marijuana, might not the government be liable through complicity? I would also recommend that all marijuana users be forced to sign a waiver of liability. Let the finest attorneys craft this document so it can be as solid as is legally possible. Then, when the lawsuits start flowing in, marijuana enthusiasts will have a much tougher time blaming others for their choice. They need to be fully informed of the potential risks of marijuana, and their understanding must be well documented. Let’s not repeat the tobacco experiment with all its attendant errors. If marijuana is to be the next widespread health hazard, let’s at least protect the nation’s financial interests. Clearly our country is not in a position to take on any more debt.

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  1. Rabecka Martin PhD April 28, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    Thank you Dr Baum for including the IMPORTANT, mostly ignored yet potential devastating mental health ramifications of legalizing marijuana in your article. All too often our country tends to ignore the mental health aspects in our critical National dialogue and decisions. The disturbing increase in public violence has not been jarring enough to inject a discussion of mental health in our National dialogue and my fear is that the legalization of Marijuana (as you rightly point out) will increase mental illness and potentially increase these instances of terror at the hands of a mentally ill individual that has been ignored by a country ill equipped to recognize and care for the mentally ill. We need more key health care providers, such as yourself, continuing the dialogue surrounding the health and mental health of our country. Thank you!

  2. Brian Edwards MD April 28, 2014 at 7:54 pm #

    I think all your concerns are valid. I believe “Alcohol” may be substituted for “Pot” in your article and we all know how prohibition turned out. Still like you I thought why legalize another potentially disease inducing drug, until I realized the toll criminalization has taken on the minority populations. There are many more whites taking POT than Blacks and yet the Blacks pay the price in jail. For this reason allow POT should be legalized.
    Just say No as a drug policy has failed.
    Adults have the right to make their own informed decisions.
    However, like diet I suspect we have very little real evidence based science to give them an informed decision.
    Alcohol is much worse medically and in terms of disruptive behavior.

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