Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has introduced legislation to remove marijuana from regulation under the Controlled Substances Act.
There is plenty of common ground on the issue of cannabis. People generally agree on ending overly harsh punishments for its use and possession and removing obstacles to non-psychotropic cannabis products such as hemp. But it is a delusion that marijuana is a safe substance for recreational use and that the federal government should stop worrying about its trafficking.
For those who claim to care about science and data, these offer few lessons for society about this drug.
The Lancet, a highly respected medical journal, published a study in 2019 proving at least correlation and suggesting possible causation between marijuana use and psychosis. It found that roughly half of all cases of psychoses in Amsterdam could be prevented “if high-potency cannabis were no longer available.”
Another study, published in JAMA Psychiatry in February 2019, found adolescent marijuana use is associated with up to a 40% risk of developing depression and suicidal behavior in adulthood. Roughly one-third of marijuana users develop an unhealthy dependency, and smoking marijuana increases the risk of a heart attack by almost 400%.
In Colorado, the first eight years of marijuana legalization were accompanied by a noticeable increase in violent crime. That does not prove a causal link, but note that legalization did not cause the decrease that advocates repeatedly, constantly, and irresponsibly promised.
Meanwhile, marijuana now consistently causes about 20% of all traffic fatalities in Colorado each year — a number that has roughly doubled since legalization in 2013. Traffic fatalities per capita have also increased by about 10% since legalization.
Between 2012 and 2017 (the last year for which data are available), there was a 50% increase in emergency room visits related to marijuana use. Colorado child poison control cases related to marijuana have risen by more than 300% between legalization and 2019. The number of children under 12 endangered in this manner (usually through ingestion of edibles) has increased six-fold since 2012.
Perhaps, the scariest fact is what researchers at the University of California San Diego reported last decade. Long-term use of marijuana by young adults under age 30 is believed to cause permanent brain damage in the form of “poorer performance on measures of attentional functioning.” Basically, if you smoke marijuana for your eight years of high school and college, or at any point before your brain is fully developed at age 30, science says this is a known medical risk.
If any other drug caused such effects on the brain, Schumer would probably be railing against the company that produced it and calling for his trial-lawyer donors to sue. If mass shootings caused anywhere near as many deaths as marijuana-impaired drivers, he would be calling for gun control twice as loudly as he does.
But when it comes to marijuana, Schumer is too cowardly and too busy pandering to acknowledge the problem.
To put it mildly, there is quite a bit we don’t understand about marijuana’s effects. Although it may be harmless relative to heroin or fentanyl, that doesn’t mean it is objectively harmless or that the federal government should give up efforts at limiting its use.
Moreover, it doesn’t mean that widespread marijuana smoking is healthy for society and won’t create a class of dropouts and government dependents who, by their own choice, become a burden.
Marijuana should also not be treated like a special medicine that doesn’t require any of the regulation or scientific scrutiny applied to nearly every over-the-counter and prescription drug available in the United States. Many advocate for this position under the banner of “medical marijuana” as if that were the middle ground. But this is lunacy, based mostly on hunches and not science.
There is a reason people do not chew tree bark and call it “medicinal.” Modern medicine depends upon drugs in precise doses to produce well-studied and well-understood effects and side effects.
It is one thing to take drugs — even dangerous, potentially addictive, or hallucinogenic drugs — in carefully regulated doses known to be safe, labeled with warnings, and actually proven to treat or cure disease.
It is quite another thing to smoke marijuana, with unpredictable dosages of its components and whose precise effects remain poorly understood. After all, there are drugs available that use marijuana’s components but with precise dosages and medically rigorous testing.
Schumer is in a difficult spot. His one-vote Senate majority is as precarious as it can be, and he faces a midterm election in which his party is likely to lose its legislative power.
This provides him with a distraction and an opportunity to pander. He will try to make it look like a criminal justice issue.
But take that isolated, bipartisan question off the table, and his proposal is at war with science and medicine.