Proponents of legalized recreational marijuana use in Missouri have a hard slog ahead.
Telling a cancer patient or someone living with chronic pain that they cannot use marijuana to ease their suffering is one thing, legalizing pot for casual use is quite another.
There are many questions that have to be answered before Missouri should rush into this. They include:
1. Is it safe for people who use it? What are its health affects? This, from the National Institute of Drug Abuse: "Substantial evidence from animal research and a growing number of studies in humans indicate that marijuana exposure during development can cause long-term or possibly permanent adverse changes in the brain."
And this: "Several studies have linked marijuana use to increased risk for psychiatric disorders, including psychosis (schizophrenia), depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders, but whether and to what extent it actually causes these conditions is not always easy to determine."
2. Is it safe for others? Nick Chabarria, spokesperson for the American Automobile Association, told the Globe recently, that “from a traffic safety perspective, this is a very big area of interest for AAA.” He cited a study that found that between 2008 and 2012 — the five-year period before the drug was legal — an estimated 8.8% of Washington drivers involved in fatal crashes tested positive for THC. That rate rose to 18% between 2013 and 2017. The study did not attempt to determine if marijuana use contributed to the crashes.
“This study ... raises significant concerns,” David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said in a statement to the paper. “Results from the analysis suggest that legalization of recreational use of marijuana may increase the rate of THC-positive drivers involved in fatal crashes.”
3. Is it a gateway drug? Some studies suggest it is, including one that appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2017: "Cannabis use appears to increase rather than decrease the risk of developing nonmedical prescription opioid use and opioid use disorder." Meaning opioid addiction.
Yet most studies acknowledge there are a lot of other factors at play with addition and drug use. And most people who smoke marijuana casually or recreationally do not go on to harder, more serious drugs.
The evidence is inconclusive. We just think Missouri had better know what it is getting into; candidly, we don't.
4. Is it addictive? This is the take from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Is it possible for someone to become addicted to marijuana? Yes, about one in 10 marijuana users will become addicted. For people who begin using younger than 18, that number rises to one in six."
The same coalition that helped pass medical marijuana in Missouri in 2018 is now gathering signatures to put the question of adult recreational-use marijuana on the ballot this fall. A total of 160,199 verified signatures are needed in the next three months in order to secure the ballot question.
Serious, solid, scientific answers are required from proponents as well.