ICYMI: Eva Maldonado: Legalizing recreational marijuana in Arizona a bad idea

By Eva Maldonado Special to the Arizona Daily Star | Aug 5


The initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona should be of great concern to every professional involved in mental health and substance abuse. It should be of great concern to every parent and to every family in Arizona.

The idea we can regulate a dangerous intoxicant to be used only by those 21 and older — as legalization proponents say, making it “just like alcohol” — is disproved by the fact we can’t limit alcohol use to the adult population.

Today, Arizona youth use alcohol at a rate over 70 percent greater than they use marijuana. Why? Alcohol is legal and therefore more available. Its legality also makes its use much less stigmatized in the eyes of our youth. Why would we want to change that with marijuana, an illegal drug that is far less available? What would be the message to our youth about the consumption of yet another intoxicant? Why risk increased use of a drug we already know alters brain development of the youth?

 And today’s marijuana is not in any way comparable to alcohol. It’s not even comparable to the marijuana of the ’60s and ’70s. The THC levels then averaged approximately 1 percent; now they are about 15 percent. Some edibles offer up to 60 percent or more. It’s an entirely different drug.

These are some of the facts proponents of marijuana legalization don’t mention.

1. There is no way to compare alcohol and marijuana. The comparative risks of all harmful drugs are different. This is a well-known scientific fact. Attempting to do such a comparison is oversimplifying the issue.

2. One cannot compare a marijuana edible or joint (offered in varying and highly potent strengths) to a glass of wine or beer. What strength of marijuana are legalization proponents talking about? Ten percent THC? Higher? How many milligrams, 20, 30, more? Edibles come in all these.

3. One glass of wine with a full meal processes out of the body in 60-90 minutes. Marijuana edibles only just begin to take effect in that time frame. Someone would be getting high off marijuana just as the typical consumer of wine would be sober. Marijuana is not safer than alcohol. They both pose risks.

4. The marijuana industry cites one study to prove their point about levels of safety — a study that has been highly misquoted. The authors of the study examined only immediate/acute effects in rats, not long-term or chronic problems. The majority of research on marijuana, however, focuses on long-term effects. The authors of this one study actually write the harms of marijuana “may therefore be underestimated” and state their study can’t be used to assess long-term problems.

Finally, research shows marijuana users are five times more likely to have an alcohol problem. So if alcohol is the main concern of marijuana legalizers, they should know increased marijuana use also means increased alcohol use. That, too, is borne out by Colorado’s experience.

 In sum, it is impossible to claim marijuana is safer than alcohol, and its greater use can lead to a great many more problems.

Two more important things to note: Marijuana is not harmless. It affects memory, motor coordination and alters judgment. Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, just banned gummy bear marijuana candy because of increased accidental ingestion by youth and hospital and ER visits. The Arizona initiative would not allow such a ban.

I understand a for-profit industry wanting to make money. I just don’t think they have the right to do it on the backs and brains of Arizona youth, using misleading justifications and comparisons that do not stand up to serious scrutiny.

Alcohol is not on the ballot this November, marijuana is. So the choice is to take all the problems we have with alcohol and now add marijuana, or continue our hard prevention work without increasing all the state’s problems. For us in prevention, the choice is not hard.

 Eva Maldonado is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. Contact her at PsychServices@hotmail.com.

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