Disagreements Continue Over California's Controversial Recreational Marijuana Initiative

Disagreements Continue Over California's Controversial Recreational Marijuana Initiative

This November, California voters will go to the polls to decide if their state will join Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon in allowing the recreational use of marijuana as part of the Recreational Marijuana Initiative.

Back in 1996, Californians voted "Yes" to Proposition 215 making it the first state in the Union to legalize doctor approved medical marijuana. Since then, 25 states and Washington D.C. have legalized various medical uses of marijuana, and three more have pending legislation. In November, if approved by voters - and all indications are that it will be approved - California's Adult Use of Marijuana Act will allow adults 21 years and older to possess up to one ounce of pot and grow up to six plants for non-medical, personal use. Sales will be forbidden unless you're a licensed grower, distributor or retailer.

The Act will impose a 15 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana sales (in addition to existing sales taxes). Legal pot is already a huge money-maker for the other recreational-approved states. As happened in the four states already allowing it, California's initiative is sparking much debate - both criticism and praise - depending on which side of the debate you're on. Critics insist that the legalization of recreational weed opens the door to more "marijuana use disorder" - a kinder and gentler term for dependence or addiction to weed - especially among younger Californians. Any review of the medical literature clearly shows that marijuana dependence occurs in a significant number of users. And marijuana is a possible gateway to more dangerous drugs. They also see the street price of legal pot hitting new lows - marijuana so cheap that anyone will be able to afford it and its use will spread to teens and even children.

It's Harmless and All Natural

Proponents pooh-pooh the nay-sayers, espousing the popular fiction that marijuana is "all natural" and harmless and good for you and doesn't cause dependence or addiction. And in the same breath they point out that the Act also includes funding for the prevention of teen drug use, and it also makes driving high on it illegal. One can't help wondering why, if it's so natural and harmless, we need funding to prevent teens from using it.

And why shouldn't people drive while under its influence? What else shouldn't they do? What about every job that affects clear and logical thinking? The influential California Medical Association supports the new initiative, despite the fact that it's been vocally against legalization for decades. On the other hand, the California Hospital Association opposes it for what are clearly valid reasons. According to MedPage Today, The California Medical Association (CMA) called the new Act "comprehensive," saying that it doesn't encourage the use of marijuana but that regulating it is "the most effective way to protect public health." However, the CMA doesn't clearly spell out how letting anyone who wants to grow and use pot whenever they want to effectively protects public health.

Not All Physicians Agree

The CMA may be in favor, but many doctors aren't. Health experts acknowledge some benefits of the initiative, but have expressed concern about the health effects of legalizing marijuana - even for adults. "There is some good stuff in the initiative," said Rachel Barry, a researcher at the University of California San Francisco, but it provides insufficient protection for public health. Barry, who co-authored an analysis of the initiative, found that marijuana smoke is just as toxic as tobacco - including the harm caused by secondhand smoke. The initiative would be better if it treated marijuana in the same way as tobacco - "legal but undesirable." "This initiative does not accomplish the goal that would prevent a public health catastrophe, because it doesn't focus on prevention strategies," Barry said.

Of course, as we mentioned above, the priority of the marijuana industry will be "to make money by increasing consumption," she added. The financial benefits to the state of legalizing and then taxing the sales of marijuana are seen by critics as a prime driver in state lawmakers ignoring the potential health repercussions of their constituents. Meanwhile, the medical marijuana industry, which grows, processes and sells medical grade marijuana in all states where it's medically approved, is in danger as well. Critics agree that legalizing recreational pot could put California's medical marijuana industry out of business. And because of that, physicians are worried that patients will no longer have access to clean, THC-free (non-intoxicating) medical-grade marijuana. And worse, many patients may stop going to the doctor for pain treatment, and instead simply self-medicate with highly-intoxicating commercial-grade marijuana.

If It's Harmless Why Are ERs So Busy?

As for the hospital association's opposition, there's no arguing with the soaring pot-related emergency room statistics in Colorado and the other pot-legal states since legalization. Despite claims that marijuana doesn't cause ill effects, hospital ERs are jammed nightly with double the number of marijuana medical emergencies than before legalization. As if ERs aren't crowded enough and underfunded enough already - and dozens have even closed in recent years - ER patients can look forward to even longer waits because of the line-ups of pot-related emergencies - clear testament to the fallacy of the "marijuana is harmless" sermons preached for years by the legalize-pot proponents.

The initiative doesn't take into account the additional burden it will place on hospitals, says Bill Emmerson, the California Hospital Association's vice president of government relations. "What we have found from the Colorado experience is that there are more patients in the emergency rooms," Emmerson said. "We already see overcrowding in our emergency rooms as a result of the Affordable Care Act and mental health issues." The prospect of living in a society where tens of thousands of people are walking and even driving around stoned day and night doesn't sound too appealing - not by a long shot.

It's especially unwelcome to the millions of sober Californians who spend half their lives on crowded streets and freeways and want to share those roads with other sober drivers. Here at Novus, we are dedicated to helping people victimized by drugs to get their lives back. Don't fall victim to the legalize-marijuana pitch. And if you or someone you care about has a problem with drugs or alcohol, don't hesitate to pick up the phone and call Novus. We're here to help.

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