We currently have more and more states legalizing marijuana for medical purposes (18 currently with 4 states pending). Washington and Colorado are the first states to pass legislation for legalizing marijuana for recreation. Pretty bold move for both states, but now the federal government needs to get involved since this is a schedule I substance.
Legalizing marijuana means it would be regulated (like other drugs including alcohol) and dispensed in state licensed stores. Amendment 64 in Colorado states that a Colorado resident over the age of 21 could purchase marijuana. The people voted to regulate the marijuana industry, not the widespread growth of marijuana.
But what really are the risks and benefits of marijuana?
Here are some things you should know:
Marijuana carries many side effects. Some of them include rapid heart beat (tachycardia), high or low blood pressure, fainting, headache, dry eyes, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, poor motor coordination, panic attack, hallucinations, depression, driving impairment, sedation and cough.
A recent study showed that those who smoke as a teen and continue chronic use develop cognitive impairment later in life.
Regular use in middle-aged people increases the risk of heart attack.
Regular smoking of 2-3 marijuana cigarettes per day produces as many symptoms as an average of 22 tobacco cigarettes per day.
Marijuana raises the risk of accidents, including car accidents.
Inmates incarcerated on marijuana charges cost U.S. prisons $1 billion annually.
The benefits include:
Cost: Marijuana growers account for $14 billion per year in sales in California according to TIME magazine
Legalizing it would boost the economy and re-direct law enforcement to take care of other more serious crimes.
Those with chronic diseases who undergo treatments like chemotherapy or radiation for cancer find marijuana to help with side effects such as nausea and vomiting.
Marijuana helps with AIDS-related anorexia.
Cannabinoids from marijuana is similar to codeine for the treatment of pain.
Sedation effects are helpful for those that have chronic insomnia (not due to sleep apnea).
As far as the differences between alcohol and marijuana on the road…alcohol causes an estimated 2.1 million car accidents each year in the U.S. which cause almost 11,000 traffic fatalities annually. A new study, however, shows that drivers who smoke marijuana within a few hours of hitting the road are almost twice as likely as stone-sober motorists to be in a crash that results in serious injury or death. Unfortunately many times these 2 drugs are combined which makes matters worse.
More than a dozen states currently have roadside drug tests for cannabis that sample drivers saliva for traces of tetrahydrocannabinol. But ascertaining a dangerous level as is currently used in a breath-based test for alcohol (0.05 percent) is less clear cut.
I would suspect that we will see more cars pulled off the road for this testing as the laws start to change.
Reference: Scientific American, Feb. 9, 2012. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2012/02/09/smoke-and-mirrors-driving-while-on-marijuana-doubles-ones-chances-of-a-serious-car-crash/