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PETE RICKETTS: Marijuana: A clear and present danger

PETE RICKETTS: Marijuana: A clear and present danger

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The marijuana industry, which is now partially owned by big tobacco, has its eye on Nebraska as a new place to turn a profit. Previously, they hid this moneymaking motive under the guise of “medical” marijuana. Now they are just pushing for full legalization.

Nebraskans have common sense and instinctively understand how this dangerous drug could harm our youth, our communities, and our economy. We don’t have to guess at the steep social costs of marijuana legalization—they have already played out tragically all over the country.

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts

States that legalize marijuana outright or incrementally (that is, through “medical marijuana”) have seen a human toll. This has included devastating effects on kids, tragic accidents, decreased participation in the workforce, and horrible mental health outcomes.

While popular media has tried to reframe how the public thinks about marijuana, it’s important to understand the health consequences and dangers of this drug. There are good reasons why the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, which means it has no medical value and high potential for abuse. Other Schedule 1 drugs include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.

Marijuana has a profoundly harmful effect on teens and young adults. THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana) impacts the developing adolescent brain severely and in many cases permanently. Actual physical changes in the grey matter of the brain in young marijuana users are documented. Frequent marijuana use is associated with learning impairment and poor academic performance. Additionally, increased marijuana use is correlated with greater risk of depression and suicidal thoughts for adolescents.

In states that have legalized marijuana, use of the drug has escalated among youth. For these states, usage climbed 3.5% from 2016-2017 to 2017-2018. Earlier this month, a study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs showed that marijuana use among teens is up 23% in California since the state fully legalized marijuana in 2016.

Marijuana triggers psychotic episodes that can end in tragedy. Levi Pongi, age 19, died after consuming a marijuana cookie and jumping off a balcony. Marijuana use also increases depression, thoughts of suicide, and suicidal behaviors among young adults. Marc Bullard, age 23, committed suicide after he began using a concentrated form of marijuana. He had no previous history of depression. These examples, both from our neighboring state of Colorado, show the potential of the drug to ruin young lives.

While putting youth at risk, marijuana use also increases the likelihood of on-the-job accidents and decreases worker productivity. States that have normalized marijuana use have experienced a sharp increase in workforce positivity rates since legalization. Examples include Oregon, Nevada, and Colorado where the rate of workers testing positive for marijuana have increased 63%, 55%, and 47% respectively. Overall, the rate of people testing positive in the workplace went up about 17% from 2014 to 2018. Alarmingly, there was an increase of about 24% in the rate of workers testing positive whose job performance has an impact on public safety, such as airplane pilots and workers in nuclear power plants.

Along with these workforce issues, marijuana also endangers public safety on the roads. For instance, in Washington, the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes testing positive for THC has doubled since the state legalized marijuana in 2012.

Aside from its particularly harmful influence on youth and in workplaces, marijuana is bad for health, especially mental health. Marijuana poses risks to brain development and cognitive functioning. The National Academy of Medicine, the nonprofit group that advises the federal government on health and medicine, released a report in 2017. It shows that “Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of schizophrenia and other psychoses.” According to NAM, the higher the use is, the greater the risk is.

The American Psychiatric Association’s statement on marijuana says, “there is no current scientific evidence that cannabis is in any way beneficial for the treatment of any psychiatric disorder. In contrast, current evidence supports, at minimum, a strong association of cannabis use with the onset of psychiatric disorders. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to harm, given the effects of cannabis on neurological development.”

California partially legalized marijuana in 1996 and fully legalized it in 2016. The State saw a rise in marijuana-related emergency department visits of 976% from 2005 to 2019! Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012 for adults age 21 and older. A study by the University of Colorado School of Medicine reported a threefold increase in ER visits related to marijuana from 2012 to 2016.

No wonder the American Medical Association (AMA) warns the public not to smoke marijuana and opposes its legalization. The AMA’s policy statement on “Cannabis Legalization for Recreational Use” says “cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a serious public health concern,” and “cannabis for adult use should not be legalized.”

The multi-billion dollar marijuana industry will continue to say anything to get the drug legalized and avoid regulation for public safety. I urge Nebraskans to be steadfast in resisting their tactics. As the Legislature debates bills related to marijuana this session, contact your State Senator to remind them of the dangers of bringing marijuana legalization to your community. You can find their contact information at www.nebraskalegislature.gov. If you have questions on other topics, please contact my office at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or 402-471-2244.

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