Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Other Side of the Marijuana Leaf

"It's not like alcohol. People metabolize it differently. There are different potencies. So there's really no solution in terms of saying 'You're now at the limit.' I just don't think there's enough research that we can say, 'Wait X amount of hours before getting on the road.' I don't know whether it's five hours or ten hours or the next day. We just don't know."
spokesperson, Colorado Department of Transportation
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In 2007 a survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration discovered that about 12% of drivers tested positive for alcohol and about 6% of drivers tested positive for marijuana. In the years following, ten additional states and the District of Columbia have adopted regimes for medical marijuana.  It is difficult to conclude how much marijuana can contribute to incapacity in the mechanical and mental tasks related to driving.

Marijuana impairment levels are not well enough understood. While alcohol impairment is detectable with the use of a breathalyzer, it requires a blood sample to conduct a blood test that will quantify the amount of marijuana residue present on the blood of a user. This is not something that can be done at the side of the road. Police are required to obtain a search warrant before embarking on anything so invasive as extracting a blood sample from a suspect.

When does the public's right to know -- administered through safety standards when an accident occurs, and police investigate the cause -- come up hard against the invasion of privacy? Colorado came up with a legal definition of marijuana impairment standard: five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood. But how to enforce it?

In the 1980s marijuana marketed to the pubic averaged between three to four percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the popular leaf. Selectively bred marijuana now averages over twelve percent THC, a far more potent strain altogether. Some strains reach 30% and it's possible to readily combust marijuana wax with butane, boosting the THC content to the height of 90% THC content.

Additionally, marijuana can now be ingested as well as smoked, leaving the way open to over-use.

Colorado hospital emergency rooms have experienced a huge rise in the number of patients presenting in a panicked and disoriented state resulting from excess THC intake. Among them a doubling of patients between the ages of 13 and 14. A study conducted in 2014 of Colorado teens in drug treatment found that 74% had shared someone's medical marijuana, an average of 50 times.

A 2013 report by the Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, concluded that Colorado teens were 50% likelier to use marijuana than their peers outside the state. Most individuals who are curious enough to try marijuana are high school students. Those in their 20s represent 14% of new users, while 22.7% of students in grade 12 report having smoked at least once a month, among whom 6.5% claimed to have smoked daily.
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  • Studies reveal that those in the teens who begin smoking marijuana while teens become significantly more likely to have a future dependency on the weed compared to people who started smoking later in life. The marijuana industry rolls out especially designed products geared to appeal to young consumers. Those products range from cannabis-infused soda, cannabis-infused chocolate taffy to cannabis-infused jujubes. No, really!

So those who agitate for greater availability and lesser penalties for marijuana users must, or should also consider the greater social impacts of loosening laws and blinking at the common use of marijuana in society. There are obvious consequences not to be discounted that are of no value whatever to society. Legal marijuana equates to more use of the stuff and the greater the temptation and availability to the young. If it's legal what harm could there be in it?

Per capita consumption of alcohol has been reduced by 20% since 1980, and while one-third of Americans smoked tobacco in 1980, fewer than one-fifth now do. Driving fatalities resulting from drunk driving had decreased by over 50% since 1982. The backlash against smoking and driving while under the influence of alcohol by public agencies and civil social groups like MADD, have been partly responsible; banning smoking in public places, higher taxes on those products and stiffer fines for bars helped.

But some twenty U.S. states and the District of Columbia since 1996 have approved medical marijuana laws, enabling people who can present a doctor's prescription for marijuana for pain relief or medical symptom-relief of chronic conditions are able to legally procure and use marijuana for health purposes. At the conclusion of 2012 in Oregon, over 56,000 medical marijuana-use regimes were permitted. Of that number only nine doctors wrote the prescriptions of enablement.

Yet within Oregon's medical-marijuana patients at the end of the year a mere 4% suffered from cancer, while 1% were identified with HIV/AIDS. The large majority cited unspecified "pain" requiring relief with the use of medical marijuana. Of those nine doctors who wrote the majority of prescriptions none was a pain specialist. Fewer than 2% of Californians having permits to use marijuana have HIV, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis or cancer.

The typical California card holder for medical marijuana have been identified through a study, to be in their 30s, healthy, male, and with a history of drug or alcohol abuse. Again, a handful of doctors sign thousands of marijuana recommendations, after a cursory medical examination. In Los Angeles an NBC news investigator visited a dispensary, was examined by an acupuncturist and massage therapist, and received a prescription signed by a doctor who was nowhere in evidence.

Where proponents of marijuana legalization are correct in their campaign, is when they point out the punitive enforcement of marijuana laws that inflict disproportionate punishment on minority groups compared with white users. The wealthy and the connected, those within the hierarchy of the social order use hard drugs and they rarely get punished for anything, since they rarely are apprehended.

Now here's a really surprising factoid; there are more opportunities within the illegal American marijuana market for procurement than one realizes. The market, it seems, is far larger than the market for coffee. With legalization it will undergo additional expansion. Academics envision a legal, noncommercial marijuana market. But this is not how the free enterprise (capitalist) commercial market works. And marijuana retailers under a legal market will tend to set up shop and be available in poor neighbourhoods.

The taxes collected with the sale of marijuana will also disproportionately affect those living in restrained pecuniary circumstances. It is those same communities where people will be affected by addiction, and where recovery services will be required, just as occurs with alcohol addiction. And the dreadful health effects of tobacco smoking impacting on people's health, will be transferred to marijuana, for society cannot yet know the full impact of its new recreational habit.

On one side of the ledger is freedom to indulge in a benevolent drug habit for recreation and for health reasons, without fear of penalty from illegal activities under the law. On the other is the add-on impact of greater availability, and the relaxation of legal proscription. The question is which end of the scale weighs more heavily toward public good or the reverse.

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