Recreational Cannabis, legal. Seriously?

In sixth grade I wrote a paper about why I thought marijuana should be legalized. Of course my angle was more about it’s possible use in the medical field. I was a strange 12 year old. My teacher didn’t like my first draft and asked me to change my topic. My new topic was “How to Cure Cancer.” I had high hopes. Eighteen years and a Doctorate later, I still believe that there are potential medical uses for marijuana. The keyword here is potential. Many life-saving drugs we use today come from or were discovered through plants, it’s an interesting science. Marijuana comes from the beautiful and rather complex flowering plant called Cannabis. The plant contains more than 421 chemicals, 61 of them being canabinoids. The canabinoids- primarily tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)- are psychoactive and responsible for the “high” felt with smoking or ingesting marijuana. Very low doses of THC is thought to help with nausea, vomiting, pain and cachexia in Cancer and AIDS patients. In fact there is a chemically modified version of this compound commercially available with a prescription called Marinol. I’ve dispensed many Marinol prescriptions during my pharmacy career thus far. I can guarantee that any terminal Cancer or AIDS patient treated with cannabis has received relief.

Cannabis Sativa

Cannabis Sativa

While I believe in the medical legalization of cannabis, I find the legalization of recreational cannabis frightening. Furthermore, regardless of intent of use, as a pharmacist, I am in absolute objection as to the way dispensing of the drug is being handled. While Colorado has legalized recreational marijuana just 8 days ago under Amendment 64, it is still against the law federally. Marijuana is a DEA schedule I drug. It is currently placed in the same class as heroin (yes-heroin!), LSD, ecstasy, peyote, and methaqualone. Schedule I drugs are substances with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. They are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence. Marijuana is addictive. Legalizing an addictive drug for recreational use is just a bad idea. Not to mention that there is no regulatory body governing the manufacture or distribution of the drug. One can argue that other substances that are harmful are legal, for example tobacco and alcohol. However, their distribution is regulated by the TTB. After doing some research, I found out that Amendment 64 requires the cannabis growers to have their products inspected by a lab for safety, purity, and THC concentration. However, these cannabis labs operate independently and are not backed by any other drug safety administration such as the FDA. Now I do have to say that obtaining marijuana from one of the legal Colorado “pot shops” is most likely safer than buying it off the street, but I fail to see how this is going to slow down abuse by anyone. Arguments are being made that because the legal age to purchase pot in Colorado is 21, abuse and obtainablity by teenagers is going to decrease. I say that’s a lie, and I’ll believe it when I see it (think about all of the underage alcohol abuse in the country). Legalizing something makes it more obtainable. More obtainability leads to more use. More use leads to more addicts. Another limitation to this new Colorado law is that a resident of the state can only purchase one ounce. Since there is no federal registrar like there is for Sudafed products (meth anyone?), people can theoretically go from pot shop to pot shop and purchase an ounce of marijuana. And another thing- since pot shop owners are restricted to how much pot they can grow, there is bound to be a shortage. What will this do for the medical marijuana patients that depend on it? Will there be any left for them?

cannabis 2

People are flocking to Colorado to be part of history. Some pot lovers interviewed on the news even moved to Colorado from the east coast just because of Amendement 64. This law was passed at one of the most inopportune times possible. The job market is not doing too hot. Depression and drug addiction are at an all time high. Young americans are graduating from high school and college without jobs. It’s easy to turn to drugs, especially when they are easily accessible. Believe me, a few of these folks are friends of mine. I don’t foresee cannabis use going down. I see it going up, as well as the repercussions of using the drug. Frequent recreational use of marijuana can be detrimental to long term health mentally and in a way you probably haven’t thought. Psychogenic effects aside, smoking marijuana increases appetite (this is why it is used for cachexia). Not to stereotype, but marijuana users, and I’m talking about solely marijuana, tend to be rather sedentary. Marijuana use + sedentary lifestyle = overwieght, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, etc. This can lead to a whole other set of health problems, not to mention increased healthcare dollars spent.

I think that America isn’t ready for marijuana to be legalized. Furthermore, research needs to be done to explore the medical benefits and uses of the drug. Then, similar to Marinol, it should go through all of the regulatory channels to be a Schedule II drug to be dispensed by licensed pharmacists only. Yes, it will be more expensive, however it will be safer, most likely more efficacious, and purchasing/distribution can be tracked by the DEA.

I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that Colorado legalized something that is still illegal Federally. Drug laws dictate that whichever law is more strict- state vs federal- is the law the state should abide by. Not to mention the marijuana is subjected to high Colorado state tax. This tax money is supposedly going to go to the Colorado school system. How can the state collect tax on a product that is not regulated by a government agency, not to mention illegal? I’m very interested to see how this plays out. Feel free to leave comments to keep the conversation going.

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Additional Information:

Colorado Medical Marijuana Code

More Information About Obtaining Marijuana in Colorado

What a Medical Marijuana Center Looks Like

DEA Drug Scheduling

A Great Article About The Chemistry of Cannibis

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13 thoughts on “Recreational Cannabis, legal. Seriously?

  1. As a footnote to your concern about availability for those using pot medically, on New Year’s day, the price for an eighth of legal weed went from approx $35 to around $70. Supply and demand, at it’s best, screwing those in need since Adam Smith.

    In addition, this price hike has kept the black market viable and promises to do so into the forseeable future.

    • This presumes that the price on the black market will remain the same. If you understand supply and demand, you will realize that the demand for black market marijuana will decline, since many will seek to purchase the alternative product (legally available marijuana), even though the price is higher. In due time, many of the black markets suppliers (drug dealers) will thus leave the market, making these black markets harder and harder to find. There is precedent for this. Some thought the same would happen with alcohol after its prohibition. History tells us that for a short period, these black markets still existed. However, after a short time, those markets dried up because they simply weren’t viable. Think through it a bit and I think you’ll understand how this works.

      Source: (economics degree + lessons of history)

    • Thad!!! You’re right in there out in Denver.
      One thing I’ve learned is that money doesn’t matter to addicts. Regardless of the price, they’ll find a way to get their hands on what they want. That’s sometimes part of the problem, people like their drugs, people go into debt, sell their valuables, lose their house, etc. One time at the pharmacy someone offered to give me their gold necklace in exchange for their Oxycontin. No lie. I called security.

      Anyway…..the main reason there will be no change in the “street” or “black market” is because of the THC concentration. There is a potency limit being placed on the “legal” marijuana. I believe it is 3%, but I could be totally wrong.
      Home cultivated, sold on the street stuff can have 12-18% of THC. So in essence, you get a better high from the non-legal stuff.

      Let’s be real- none of it’s good. Not pot, tobacco, or alcohol. Perhaps I’m not a good advocate one way or the other since I think it should all be illegal- including caffeine after what it’s done to me.

      Stay Warm! xoxo

      • Lauren – How could there not be a change in the black market? You can’t tell me that every single customer previously (demand) on the black market will turn up their nose and say, ‘no thanks, I still prefer my illegal option to a legal option’. You’d have to assign some monetary value to the risk aversion gained by obtaining marijuana legally. If THC potency is an issue, people can just smoke a bit more of it. Other casual users may not even notice potency as a factor.

        This also presumes that the current supply will remain the same. With thousands of people lining up to purchase legal marijuana, it seems to me that consumers are choosing the legal option. Although some of the people may be new demand, my guess is a large portion were previous black market demand. Given this loss of demand in the black market, my guess is that lots of black market suppliers (drug dealers) will leave the market altogether (since it’s no longer a money making venture) to the level that might make it worth it to them to be a supplier. Perhaps they will just stick to other products that have higher margins (meth, pills, etc.). Also, you have to wonder how this will impact those who supply the suppliers. If we are talking mules or other people who bring marijuana into the country in high volume, I would think they would want their product to land somewhere with a high distribution potential. I think they would just avoid Colorado altogether at this point, since there are much richer markets elsewhere.

        I don’t disagree with your point that “none of this is good”. However, there are a lot of things in society that carry with them an inherent risk. One of our luxuries of being free and independent beings is that we have the right to do things to our body, even though it may not be in our best overall interest. One of the joys in life that many people gain is by taking risks, living adventurously, and trying to experience more. We can each individually make our assessments on how we choose to live, but it’s outside of the bounds in our culture, I feel, to place our values onto other free persons.

        Thanks for the good conversation.

        -mark

  2. Wow – Not sure where I want to start, since I disagree with a lot of the claims made. I will go through point by point.

    1-Marijuana as schedule 1 drug: completely arcane analysis that should have been changed decades ago. Lawmakers and medical experts alike no that the harmful affects of marijuana do not put it in the same camp as the other drugs you have mentioned.
    2-legalizing an addictive drug for consumption-? What about alcohol? From most accounts alcohol is much more harmful and damaged many more lives. Why the double standard? Why does alcohol win while marijuana loses? Because commercials with people having a good time dancing around with alcohol tell us so?
    3-Regulating body – let’s set one up. It’s due time for that. And I think this will occur. Why would there be one if it’s not widely legalized. People talk about big government.
    4-Availability for minors to buy: By many accounts, it’s actually easier for kids to get marijuana than it is to get alcohol. The reason for this is that it is regulated! If the same happens to marijuana it’s likely the black markets for it will dry up as well, because they will be unnecessary.
    5-People turning to drugs – Again? Why the double standard? I’d rather have someone turn to marijuana than alcohol. Maybe I think big macs should be illegal and fried food. Point is, I don’t think we should be in the business of moralizing what is wrong or right in this sense.
    6-marijuna users who are sedentary – This is a stereotype that is caused by the negative stigma of marijuana. Ask gold medal winning Michael Phelps or Cy Young Award Winning Tim Lincecum how sedentary the lifestyles that they lead. This is a laughable argument.
    7-descrepancy between state and federal laws – This is not the first time this has occurred in our history. In many instances, if it does not affect national security or is an international issue, the federal government doesn’t meddle into states affairs. You may have heard lots of Republicans utter the “States Rights” phrase. They actually want the federal government to allow states to govern their own affairs. President Obama recognizes that Marijuana laws are outdated, and likely will not sick the DEA forces on a state who decided how they want to live via referendum. It’s a democracy we live in after all.

    One thing you failed to even mention is the social justice issue involved here. I ask you to take a look and see how many thousands of people are incarcerated for minor drug offenses. Lives wasted away in our prisons, and disproportionately African American in composition. This is a tax on our prison systems, law enforcement, and the judicial system, all of which could be put toward better use in protecting our country and maker it safer. Prosecuting and locking up some marijuana users is hardly pragmatic in this sense.

    I agree that more research needs to be done, and more regulations need to come into place. I think as the process evolves this will naturally happen. However, It continues to baffle me how some can hold such a hypocritical view toward marijuana while at the same time be so ho-hum about alcohol. Treat marijuana the same way as alcohol. Tax it, Control it, set regulations on it, etc. This will prevent black markets which increase crime while at the same time allowing consumers to have a better idea of what they are purchasing since they can talk to experts, and not some shady drug dealer.

    -mark

    • Good stuff Mark, thanks for the comments!
      I’m against tobacco and alcohol too. Bad stuff, but what are you gonna do. I am definitely not ho hum about alcohol, ask my fiance lol.
      I hope they find some true regulation in the future. Of course, being concerned for people’s health, I would feel much more comfortable dispensing marijuana than a drug dealer any day.

  3. I completely agree with you and I do share the same concerns. It should be regulated by FDA and sold by licensed pharmacists only! I do believe this legalization will do more harm than good. Only time will show the consequences of this decision.

  4. Also, something that is key to the conversation is the role of legality vs. morality in our society. That is a tough subject.
    Lauren, thanks for your thoughts on this topic. As a health professional, friend and fellow yogi I value your thoughts and opinions on things health related. I think this is a topic for much research and discussion.

    • Just a quick note about the attainability of illegal versus legal mind altering substances. I worked as a prevention educator in schools teaching anti-violence and drug resistance programs to middle school students and I have heard repeatedly from the kids themselves that it is much easier to obtain pot and pills for kids their age than it is to get their hands on alcohol. I personally had a much easier time as a high school kid in Philadelphia (albeit almost 20 years ago) accessing marijuana than I did accessing alcohol, so I tend to wonder if regulation isn’t the best means of making a substance less readily available to adolescent.

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