The problem with pot

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It seems each time we open a newspaper we are assailed with stories of marijuana’s ability to rescue state economies and its power to heal. But little if any data is included about what actually is happening in states that have legalized the drug. Idahoans deserve to know what outcomes this social experiment has produced so far.

Is it the panacea voters were promised? Is there really no harm being done? The data shows:

• Youth use of marijuana has increased.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Coloradoans of all age groups (12-17, 18-25, 26 and older) rank first in the nation for past-month marijuana use. Before legalization they ranked fourth, third and seventh, respectively.

After recreational marijuana was legalized there, Colorado youth’s past-month use for 2013/2014 was 74 percent higher than the national average.

• Impaired driving has increased.

The number of Washington drivers with active THC in their blood in fatal driving accidents increased by more than 122 percent between 2010 and 2014 (Washington State Traffic Safety Commission).

The percentage of Colorado vehicle operators who were found positive for marijuana increased from 7.88 percent in 2006 to 24.03 percent in 2014 (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), 2006-2013; CDOT, 2014).

• Poison control calls and emergency department visits have increased.

Calls to Washington’s Poison Control Center related to marijuana-infused products increased 312.5 percent from 2012 to 2014, and calls related to marijuana oils increased by

850 percent.

The Colorado Hospital Association reported marijuana-related emergency room visits increased from 8,197 in 2011 to 18,255 in 2014.

• Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recently refused to downgrade marijuana from its federal status as a Schedule I controlled substance. Chuck Rosenberg, acting DEA administrator, stated, “This decision is based on whether marijuana, as determined by the FDA, is a safe and effective medicine. And it’s not.”

The DEA and Food and Drug Administration’s decision is consistent with major medical organizations including the American Medical Association, which states, “(1) cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health concern; (2) sale and possession of cannabis should not be legalized.”

Likewise, the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes “medical marijuana” outside the regulatory process of the FDA due to potential harms to children and adolescents.

These facts barely skim the surface of the destructive outcomes of drug legalization.

As Idaho’s chief drug policy authority, I urge Idahoans to diligently study the scientifically valid research being released from numerous reliable data sources. The Idaho Office of Drug Policy’s position is that components of the marijuana plant should be evaluated by the same rigorous, scientific FDA process through which every legal medication in our country is tested.

When our way of life and the health and safety of our communities are jeopardized, we must be vigilant seekers of the truth and not swayed by stories filled with emotion and half-truths.

•••

Elisha Figueroa is administrator of Gov. Butch Otter’s Office of Drug Policy.

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