Mental Health Matters: Know your marijuana facts before voting (opinion) | SierraSun.com

Mental Health Matters: Know your marijuana facts before voting (opinion)

Andrew Whyman, MD
Mental Health Matters
Andrew Whyman
File photo |

Get ready. Be informed. Exercise your constitutional rights. Vote this fall on initiatives in California and Nevada addressing the legalization of marijuana.

This vote is a big deal in both states. There are enormous economic, cultural and medical implications. At stake are billions of dollars in the presently illegal recreational cannabis industry and the wisdom and efficacy of continuing to criminalize the personal possession of marijuana.

If you thought the sale of medical marijuana in Placer, Nevada and Washoe counties proved contentious, well, “You ain’t seen nothin yet!”

The much anticipated and, some would say, seriously worrisome opening of a Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Incline Village, as well as Measure W on the June 2016 primary ballot in Nevada County in California regarding nuisance issues and outdoor medical marijuana cultivation, are a mere prelude to the marijuana legalization question.

In California, there are several potential initiatives in November, but one, The Adult Use of Marijuana, leads the field. In Nevada, one initiative, The Nevada Marijuana Legalization Initiative, will be on the November ballot.

In the months ahead, expect to hear from anti-legalization advocates that legalization will destroy our communities, with consequences like gigantic government bureaucracies, the erosion of civic and moral virtue, an increase in crime, and all the problems associated with an increase in drug addiction.

Expect to hear that youth will be especially vulnerable and that legalization will have devastating consequences.

Then, expect to hear from pro-legalization quarters that this particular increase in personal liberty will create a better world where adult citizens can pursue a mostly harmless source of pleasure and relaxation without worry about being made into criminals.

I write now because the battle is already taking shape. See, for example, a recent column (Reno-Gazette Journal, 4/6/16) by Jim Hartman, president of Nevadans for Responsible Drug Policy, who writes that marijuana legalization in Nevada will transform the Nevada Department of Taxation into a “massive bureaucracyŠ — the single most powerful agency in state government.”

He goes on to claim that Colorado, following legalization, experienced “growth in underage marijuana use, an increase in drug crimes and dispensaries focused on inner-city neighborhoods, as well as issues related to health, banking, pesticides, and neighborhood zoning.”

Moreover, claims Hartman, “Studies show that early marijuana use contributes to higher dropout rates and poorer university entrance scores. The experience of legalization in Colorado has already shown that recreational marijuana use has compromised the states work force.”

And, “legalizing recreational marijuana is bad for kids, bad for Nevada families, and bad for Nevada employers.”

A vocal and articulate anti-legalization advocate, Nevada State Assembly member Pat Hickey, adds, “Are you comfortable with THC-infused gummy bears being sold in Nevada, knowing they are almost impossible to detect in schools and in the workplace? Do you want a pot dispensary in your community? Do you want the risk of THC-intoxicated people driving down your street while your kids play?”

There was more, but you get the picture.

So, what’s a conscientious citizen to do? First, know the facts. Do not be misled by false facts and junk science quoted by pro and con arguers. If you’re told marijuana is “safer than alcohol” or “less addictive than tobacco” ask to see the research. If told “marijuana is a dangerously addictive drug” and that it “lowers IQ,” again, ask to see the research.

Also know that much of what claims to be reliable research is not. Is the research published in a peer-reviewed quality academic journal? Who funds the research? Who stands to gain by the results? In fact, much of what we think we know about marijuana is false fact posing as credible science.

Then ask what our longstanding policy of criminalizing marijuana has achieved. Ask, “Is there less marijuana use, abuse and addiction because recreational marijuana is illegal?” Or, “What is the long term impact of a marijuana conviction?” And, “Do the negative impacts of criminalization outweigh the benefits, and what are the benefits?”

An informed vote requires that you know that drugs which our government has singled out for criminal controls are not unique in their association with toxicity, dependence, or crime (Drugs, Society and Human Behavior by Carl Hart and Charles Kgir).

For example, the legal drugs — alcohol and tobacco — are linked to the same social and public health ills as the illegal drugs marijuana, heroin, and cocaine.

In future columns we’ll discuss these issues in more depth as the elections approach, but I want you to have a head start.

Incline Village resident Andrew Whyman, MD, is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist. He can be reached for comment at adwhyman143@gmail.com.