Policy & LawPublic Health

The Medical Marijuana Mess

2 Mins read

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The thin veneer of “medical” marijuana has been stripped away in Colorado, where stores originally providing remedies for patients have been quick to plaster themselves with new signs touting recreational use for all adults. And while federal regulations and public pressure have largely kept alcohol and nicotine out of candy and other child-friendly, sugary products, the marijuana industry is moving in the opposite direction by offering an ever-widening array of pot-infused “edibles,” complete with approving coverage from mainstream media.

There’s room for debate on just how harmful marijuana is, but it definitely is harmful, especially to the developing brains of adolescents. Here’s my bottom line: marijuana should be decriminalized so that those who consume it for whatever purpose are not subject to arrest and imprisonment, with all the personal and societal costs that brings, but the widespread use of marijuana should not be encouraged. And that’s roughly where Massachusetts was before voters decided to legalize medical marijuana.

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I think we’re fooling ourselves in Massachusetts by going down the route of approving medical marijuana dispensaries. Early experience has already demonstrated that some unsavory characters and losers are drawn into the business. And with public opinion running toward legalization, we should expect these dispensaries to become outlets for recreational marijuana within a few years, maybe sooner.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and act accordingly:

  • If marijuana is a medicine it should be tested like any other drug and approved by FDA. If that’s the case, physicians could prescribe it and pharmacists could dispense it. In fact, such drugs are on the market and in development
  • If marijuana is so safe and effective that it doesn’t need a prescription, it should be sold wherever –like Tylenol
  • If marijuana is a recreational drug like alcohol, with known harms but where we’ve opted against prohibition, we should let liquor stores sell it. They already deal with age verification and physical security of the product

Sad to say but I think we’re going to see widespread legalization of recreational marijuana over the next few years and that we’ll look back in a decade or so and realize it’s been a serious mistake of the same magnitude as the addiction and abuse epidemic that’s resulted from the expansion of legal prescribing of drugs like OxyContin for pain.

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