IMPOSE A MORATORIUM ON MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION
The Rosenthal Center proposes a two-year moratorium on the legalization of marijuana to study the drug’s impact on health and social behavior in legalized states. Over the past few years, the drive to legalization – led by the pot lobby, cannabis companies and politicians recently converted to the cause - has created a seemingly unstoppable rush to commercialization. This has raised concerns about shifting consumption patterns, the toxicity of new pot products, and market regulation for both medical and recreational marijuana. As legalization accelerates – voters in four states including conservative Utah will decide on marijuana ballot initiatives in the midterms – it is time to pause. A two-year moratorium will provide ample time to accomplish the following: review evidence from states where pot has been legalized as well as in Canada, which took the step last month; evaluate current studies that show marijuana is far from a benign substance; and establish an appropriate framework to control the drug’s use and sale in the future.
I am most concerned about teenagers having easier access to today’s much more powerful marijuana. Adolescents are highly susceptible to the slick packaging and rosy (if dubious) health benefits ascribed to these new pot products, including those laced with CBD. This non-psychoactive component of pot is said to alleviate everything from aching joints to anxiety. There is, in fact, only one drug derived from the cannabis plant approved by the FDA (for epilepsy), and only anecdotal evidence suggests that pot can relieve nausea and help people with symptoms of PTSD, among many other unsubstantiated claims.
In this new environment, teens are experimenting with smoking and vaping pot as well as consuming marijuana edibles. New studies indicate the following: chronic use in adolescent years leads to chronic use in adulthood and impaired cognitive development; marijuana poses a greater risk to the developing brains of teenagers than alcohol consumption; and quitting cannabis for just one week can significantly boost the memory of once-a-week adolescent and young adult users.
A two-year moratorium isn’t likely to stop the runaway train of legalization, as 62 percent of Americans favor it and 94 percent support medical marijuana. But it will allow time to better assess and evaluate the potential risks of pot, and put in place regulations and restrictions to control the rapid commercialization and widespread use of the drug.
DRUG OVERDOSES DEATHS ARE DOWN, BUT WE’RE NOT OUT OF THE WOODS YET
Preliminary tracking data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate a 2.8 percent drop in overdose fatalities in the 12-month period ending in March 2018, providing a glimmer of hope that the opioid crisis might be ebbing. Wider use of overdose reversal drugs and prevention and treatment initiatives in such states as Vermont, Rhode Island and Massachusetts – all of which registered declines in overdose deaths – are probably responsible for the slight decrease. But it’s not clear yet whether this is a blip or a sustainable trend. Despite the overall drop, deaths linked to the synthetic opioid fentantyl as well as methamphetamines are still rising. And even if the current decline in overdose rate continues for the rest of the year, an estimated 70,000 people will die in 2018 compared to more than 72,000 in 2017. That remains a tragic and unacceptable toll.