Shannon's health and fitness blog

Should we legalize marijuana?

On November 2. 2010 California voters will be voting on Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act.  Proposition 19 legalizes various marijuana-related activities, allows local government to regulate these activities, permits local government to impose and collect marijuana related fees and taxes, and authorizes various criminal and civil penalties.

Personally, I’m not a marijuana user.  I don’t even drink alcohol.  The worst substance I put in my body is caffeine.  However, almost everyone I know uses marijuana.  At times, I feel as if I’m the only one who doesn’t use this substance (although I know that can’t be true!)  Doctors, lawyers, business men and women, moms, dads, teachers,  and even those (lying) politicians all smoke pot on occasion (or regularly).

When Prop 215 came on the ballot for the medical use of marijuana, I happily marked yes to pass this measure.  After all, I believe that people should be allowed to use herbs to treat their medical conditions.  At one time plants and herbs were the source of all our medicines, and it certainly has to be better than the crap the pharmaceutical companies manufacture.

However, when Prop 19 qualified to be on the ballot I wasn’t so quick to say yes.  The regulation and taxing of marijuana is a non-issue for me.  This makes absolute sense to regulate and tax California’s largest crop industry, just like we do for alcohol and tobacco.  In my mind, the real issues are health and children.

As a mom, I always consider how a situation or issue will affect my child.  I really don’t care if other people smoke pot, but I will not allow it to take place in my child’s presence.  Unlike alcohol, this law does not allow the use of marijuana in public places.  There will still be laws in place prohibiting selling or giving marijuana to minors under 21 and for driving under the influence.  Employers will still have the right to address marijuana consumption with employees.  The criminal penalties are stricter than for alcohol, which I consider to be just as bad, if not worse, than marijuana.

When it comes to health risks of marijuana, I came across some pretty surprising studies and statistics.  Most doctors will tell you that alcohol and tobacco are far more dangerous than marijuana.  I think most of us are quite aware of the health risks associated with alcohol use and abuse.  According to the Metropolitan Drug Commission, excessive alcohol use can lead to permanent heart, liver, kidney, and brain damage, neurological disorders, memory loss, cirrhosis and increased risk of liver cancer, pancreatitis, and depression. Not only are the long term effects fatal, you can overdose on alcohol as well.  Then there’s the incredibly high rate of cancers and heart disease associated with tobacco use.

Marijuana users, on the other hand, may suffer some memory or cognitive impairments, but I have yet to hear of anyone suffering from any major health problem from smoking marijuana, nor has anyone ever overdosed on marijuana. Below are comments made by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in regards to studies done on the safety of  marijuana:

“3. The most obvious concern when dealing with drug safety is the possibility of lethal effects. Can the drug cause death?

“4. Nearly all medicines have toxic, potentially lethal effects. But marijuana is not such a substance. There is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, documented cannabis-induced fatality.

“5. This is a remarkable statement. First, the record on marijuana encompasses 5,000 years of human experience. Second, marijuana is now used daily by enormous numbers of people throughout the world. Estimates suggest that from twenty million to fifty million Americans routinely, albeit illegally, smoke marijuana without the benefit of direct medical supervision. Yet, despite this long history of use and the extraordinarily high numbers of social smokers, there are simply no credible medical reports to suggest that consuming marijuana has caused a single death.


US Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, “In the Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling Petition” (Docket #86-22), September 6, 1988, p. 56-57.

Compare this with a study done on deaths caused by 17 different prescription drugs, which included Compazine, Baclofen, Zanaflex, Haldol, Lithium, Ritalin, Wellbutrin, Adderall, Viagra, Vioxx.  These 17 drugs were primary suspects in 10,008 deaths between 1997 and 2005.

Additionally, here is a chart showing the Annual Causes of Death in the United States:

Tobacco 435,0001
Poor Diet and Physical Inactivity 365,0001
Alcohol 85,000 1
Microbial Agents 75,0001
Toxic Agents 55,0001
Motor Vehicle Crashes 26,3471
Adverse Reactions to Prescription Drugs 32,0002
Suicide 30,6223
Incidents Involving Firearms 29,0001
Homicide 20,3084
Sexual Behaviors 20,0001
All Illicit Drug Use, Direct and Indirect 17,0001, 5
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs Such As Aspirin 7,6006
Marijuana 07

As for cognitive decline in marijuana users, there are so many studies done that do not show any, or very little decline, that I would have to say that the findings are inconclusive.  The conclusion of many of these studies look like this:

“In conclusion, our meta-analysis of studies that have attempted to address the question of longer term neurocognitive disturbance in moderate and heavy cannabis users has failed to demonstrate a substantial, systematic, and detrimental effect of cannabis use on neuropsychological performance. It was surprising to find such few and small effects given that most of the potential biases inherent in our analyses actually increased the likelihood of finding a cannabis effect.”


Grant, Igor, et al., “Non-Acute (Residual) Neurocognitive Effects Of Cannabis Use: A Meta-Analytic Study,” Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society (Cambridge University Press: July 2003), 9, p. 687.

When it comes to marijuana, I’d have to say that it is much safer than alcohol.  US Health and Human Services publishes Mortality Data From the Drug Abuse Warning Network.  They look at death from drug use in many cities and metropolitan areas all over the United States.  They state that the three most common drugs to cause death are heroin, cocaine, and alcohol.  In my opinion, alcohol is the gateway drug, not marijuana.

As I stated above, I don’t care if other people want to use marijuana, but I don’t condone it either.  I wouldn’t want my daughter doing it.  However, if something as deadly and unhealthy as alcohol can be legal, marijuana most certainly can be as well.


October 24, 2010 - Posted by | Health | , , , , , , , , , ,

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