Puff Of Reality: The Aftermath Of State Marijuana Legalizations

In 2014 the Unites States House of Representatives passed a bill prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Agency DEA from arresting medical cannabis patients in states with medical cannabis laws. President Obama himself endorsed cannabis legalization. This leniency towards marijuana legalization has produced many consequences both good and bad. This article will look at the aftermath of marijuana legalization, and the possible repercussions of such action.

Claims for legalization of Marijuana seems to be a pressing entity within the public domain, but we need to determine that what are the factors that aided in the acceptability of Marijuana that led to this public demand.

  1. Medical Marijuana As A Replacement For Prescription Drugs

There is growing evidence that legalization of medical marijuana is linked with reduced health-care expenses and fewer prescriptions for seniors, and also associated with reduced fatalities due to opioids.

A new study conducted by researchers Ashley Bradford and W. David Bradford at the University of Georgia has found that medical marijuana laws reduce prescription drug use in medicare part D, the policy section that deals with subsidizing the costs of prescription drugs and prescription drug insurance premiums for Medicare users.

The researchers identified nine conditions for which medical marijuana has evidence of efficacy in treatment—including anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and pain—and compared overall prescriptions for other existing drugs in states where medical marijuana is legal versus states where it is illegal. They also analyzed Medicare Part D spending in states that have legalized medical marijuana.

Bradford and Bradford estimated that the country could save over $400 million annually in Part D costs if every state legalized medical marijuana. That number pales in comparison to the $66 billion spent on medicare D drugs, and only makes for 10% of almost a whopping $400 billion spent on drugs. Due to inflation and ever growing costs of medical expenditure, policy makers, governing bodies, and politicians have advocated policies that can help cut down medical expenses.

But the money that medical marijuana saves in prescription costs is perhaps only a fraction of the money that it actually saves in total. Of the conditions and drug categories for which marijuana could serve as a replacement, pain was easily the most common, with around 30,000 Part D prescriptions per physician.

That number is astonishing; especially considering the second highest category is anxiety, with approximately 11,000 prescriptions for each physician. Bradford and Bradford’s data shows that states with medical marijuana had pain prescription rates that were 3,600 lower per physician—or 12 percent less—than states without it. That reduction should show up in a reduction of opioid addiction, which itself should lower treatment costs in other Medicare spending categories and reduce fatalities.

Speaking of Florida, Truelieve, the first organization to dispense medical marijuana made its first home delivery on 23rd July. Patients suffering from cancer, chronic pain, seizures, anxiety and depression can order medical marijuana by contacting their physician but both should be listed in a public registry.

  1. The Effect Of State Marijuana Legalizations: Marijuana Can Lower Risk Of Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction has become a pandemic in recent years. Deaths from opioid overdose were at an all-time high in 2014.Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014.

Each state is reacting differently to the problem, which is unlikely to get resolved any time soon, due to lack of funding from the federal government. Elders are the most likely to develop an opioid addiction. Most of these cases go unnoticed since many elders do not enter patient  care as compared to younger patients. Due to the health issues of many senior patients and chronic pain being a highly likely scenario many of them are prescribed pain killers, which increases the risk for developing an addiction.

Bradford and Bradford’s data suggests that medical marijuana may play a part in reducing fatalities due to opioid addiction. This data confirms other researches in the past that have produced similar findings of medical marijuana reducing addiction and deaths related to painkillers. Just under half of the entire United States allows medical marijuana. Many medical professionals themselves are advocating for the drug.In Florida—which already allows for medical marijuana usage for patients facing mortal illness— medical marijuana could help its large population of seniors and help it fight the growing opioid problem effectively.

  1. Tech Companies Have Started Collaborations With Marijuana Dispensaries

With the recent legalization of marijuana, usage has risen by 74% in 2014 alone. To capitalize on this booming industry and to aid new marijuana users and marijuana growers, Microsoft has teamed up with a marijuana startup based out of Los Angeles, KIND Financial(KIND). According to a recent statement issued by KIND, Microsoft will provide software solutions to track the marijuana growing process from start to finish, making it easier for marijuana business owners to make safe and secure financial transactions lawfully.

In this way, Microsoft has become the first major company to back the cannabis industry. This will also make it easier for states that have legalized the medical or recreational use of marijuana, as they can now utilize the Microsoft’s cloud computing network Azure. Azure will help in efficiently monitoring marijuana sales and commerce transactions, ensuring that they remain within limits of the law.

Currently, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and Washington DC, have already legalized recreational, as well as medical, marijuana for adults. Yet twenty more states have legalized marijuana for medical use only. While at least five states including California, US’s most populous state, are looking to vote on marijuana legalization for recreational use, this fall.  Since marijuana is legal in Washington state, where Microsoft’s headquarters is located, Microsoft has a lot to gain financially from this collaboration.

Another tech startup Hypur, from Scottsdale, Arizona is helping marijuana dispensaries finance their business, convincing banks to invest in their vision. Hypur was founded by a team of banking compliance and software entrepreneurs and has helped many banks finance the cannabis industry. The startup audits a marijuana company from scratch making sure it is legitimate.

More startups will soon start noticing the profitable venture that the marijuana industry provides, which will greatly benefit both consumers and business owners.

  1. Weed Legalization Has Created Many Jobs

Marijuana legalization in states such as Colorado has boosted the economy and day by day proves to be a gold rush. Since retail sales started back in January 2014, the state has seen a boom in the job market. Its estimated by the Marijuana Industry Group that just under five months of its legalized retail sales, the marijuana industry created 10,000 new jobs with more expected with each passing day as many people have started accepting the legalization. Its hard to estimate how many of these jobs are involved with medical marijuana use and how many are linked to recreational weed use.

The job growth has proved the success of Colorado’s recreational cannabis market, with sales of an upward of $50 million dollars in the first three months alone, which is expected to rise exponentially. Medical marijuana sales have held steady as well.

The jobs include professional marijuana testers, whose job is to test each strain of marijuana or weed product such as edibles and do a review on them. One such example is of Russ Hudson, an American living in Spain who “tests” different weed strains being sold at various weed clubs throughout Spain.

After he has completed the review he posts it on his website: Marijuana Games. Other jobs include weed delivery services, dispensary security, cannabis cultivators/farmers, regulation authorities, harvesters, weed consultants whose job is to guide entrepreneurs and individuals looking to start to launch their own business; and managers and administrative staff whose job is to ensure the business is running smoothly.

The Negative Side Of Marijuana Legalization

As with any and all policies, reform or decision there are consequences both good and bad. There is irrefutable proof that marijuana legalization has created jobs, startups, alternatives to prescription medicine and lowered opioid addiction. There is however a dark side to it. Recently marijuana related crime incidents have become quite frequent in Alaska, and many adolescents have turned to marijuana.

  1. Marijuana Legalization Is Harming Youth

Legalizing marijuana may be a dream come true for many but recent stats from Colorado show an increased number of children ending up in hospital after being exposed to and poisoned by legalized recreational cannabis.

Colorado Amendment 64 was a successful ruling that allowed for the personal use of marijuana for adults of 21 years and above. An initiative that became the first of its kind in the world came into full effect by April 2016, a result of which many children are being exposed to the drug, poisoning them and eventually leading to hospitalizations.

A study, led by Dr Genie Roosevelt of University of Colorado, assessed pediatric reports from hospitals and regional poison center (RPC) with relation to marijuana exposure and compared them with the rates of exposure before marijuana legalization. The aim was to better explore the repercussions of legalization of marijuana in children in the state of Colorado.

The study examined 81 patients in the Children’s Hospital while 163 cases were analyzed that regional poison center (RPC) admitted between January 2009 and December 2015. All the cases were of children whose age was less than 10 years old. The average rate of marijuana related visits to the hospital rose from 1.2 per 100,000 populations to 2.3 per 100,000 populations (2 years after the legalization of the drug).

The RPC annual report highlighted that an average 34% increase in RPC cases each year in Colorado was seen as opposed to the 19% increase in the rest of USA. Furthermore, in 2009, nine cases of marijuana related poisoning appeared, which escalated by 5 times leading to 47 such cases by 2015. The results of the study clearly show that the reported cases of children being exposed to marijuana have undoubtedly increased after the legalization of the drug in Colorado.

The children who are being admitted to hospitals for such exposure experience various symptoms such as vomiting, dizziness and drowsiness. However, there were some cases where children suffered from respiratory depression, causing them to undergo intensive care.

  1. Marijuana Legalization Resulted In Exponential Increase In Crime Rate In Alaska

In February of 2015, it became legal to grow and consume marijuana in Alaska. And just like it happened in Colorado and Washington, states that have legalized weed, crime rates immediately increased after declining or relatively stable rates during the pre-legalization period.

According to the FBI’s Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report for the first six months of 2015, the number of violent crimes in Anchorage Alaska increased by a whopping 34% compared to the same duration in 2014. Murders were up by an astonishing 167% and aggravated assaults rose to 34% compared to the first six months of 2014.

The increase in violent crimes that occurred at the same time pot was legalized is quite remarkable.  Between 2006 and 2014, the number of violent crimes was stable.  Once marijuana legalization took place in early 2015, the crime rate went up dramatically.

  1. Marijuana’s Effect On Health

There are no documented deaths from marijuana use but it is far from harmless. The risk of weed abuse, more commonly termed as cannabis use disorder is tenfold due to many people considering weed as harmless. Its been a long held belief that prolonged use of weed will lead to impaired memory, some research suggests that this is not the case. Nevertheless, certain specific neuropsychological parameters have been found to be affected particularly response times, working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility.

A recent similar study investigated Association Between Lifetime Marijuana Use and Cognitive Function in Middle Age. The researchers used data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study and observed 5115 men and women aged 18 to 30 years at baseline from March 25, 1985, to June 7, 1986 (year 0), and followed up over 25 years from June 7, 1986, to August 31, 2011 to check for 3 areas of cognitive function: verbal memory, processing speed and executive function.

The researchers measured the cognitive functions using mirror star tracing test. The researchers did take into account demographic factors, cardiovascular risk factors, tobacco smoking, use of alcohol and illicit drugs, physical activity, and depression.

Among 3385 participants with cognitive function measurements at the year 25 visit, 2852 (84.3%) reported past marijuana use, but only 392 (11.6%) continued to use marijuana into middle age. Continue use of weed was linked with worse verbal memory and processing speed; overall cumulative lifetime exposure was linked with deteriorated performance in all 3 cognitive tests.

After excluding current users and adjusting for potential confounders, cumulative lifetime exposure to marijuana remained significantly associated with worse verbal memory. Hence it is concluded that past exposure to marijuana is associated with worse verbal memory but does not appear to affect other areas of cognitive function.

Research has shown that adolescents are severely affected by marijuana, not as an ill effect but due to the consequential outcome of laziness. Several schools have reported an increase in student absentees and poor grades.The research on other health effects of marijuana is inconclusive. Some studies linked the use of marijuana to psychotic disorders, but other research suggests people with psychotic disorders may be more inclined to smoke pot.

Research on whether marijuana causes lung cancer has produced conflicting results despite some studies saying cannabis smoking increases risk of lung cancer more significantly than tobacco users.

  1. Marijuana’s Effect On Human Behavior

Despite marijuana being the most commonly abused drug, it has created a lot of controversy and divided people’s opinions on it due to conflicting studies and inconclusive results. It is important to keep in mind, however that marijuana usage can lead to psychosis and anxiety, although ironically many people have successfully used it to treat these very diseases.

Available evidence has suggested that cannabis can involuntarily induce extreme psychiatric symptoms in some individuals who are genetically predisposed to psychosis and schizophrenia and that use of cannabis after a first episode of schizophrenia is associated with poorer prognosis.

Hence according to JAMA Psychiatry until more compelling argument emerges, diagnosing one’s marijuana habit is not as simple as just asking whether smoke pot or not, its much more about considering the risk factors associated with more enduring effects, and in order to do so clinicians need to ask age of first use, quantity of use, and the form in which they took marijuana e.g joint or edibles, frequency of use, and the potency of the cannabis products the patient uses. Responses will allow the primary care clinician to provide useful education, well-grounded guidance, and intervention, if required.

Marijuana does increase risk of accidents. One study from Columbia University researchers found that people driving with marijuana in their system were nearly twice as likely to get in a fatal car crash. This increased risk of accidents does indeed show that people die indirectly due to marijuana usage, but such stats are constantly misreported.

One thing is quite clear though, smoking pot doesn’t lead to harder drugs. As its been a long held belief of many anti-marijuana advocates that weed is a gateway drug that leads to harder illicit substances such as cocaine or heroin, it’s completely false.

Does Marijuana Use Lead To Harder Drugs?

There are significant findings however to suppor this claim such as Marijuana users are many times more likely than nonusers to progress to hard-drug use. Almost all who have used both marijuana and hard drugs used marijuana first. The greater the frequency of marijuana use, the greater the likelihood of using hard drugs later. There is a much simpler explanation to debunk the gateway effect theory.

Those who use drugs may have an underlying likelihood to do so that is not specific to any one drug. There is some support for such a “common-factor” model in studies of genetic, familial, and environmental factors influencing drug use. It has also been suggested that marijuana use precedes hard-drug use simply because opportunities to use marijuana come earlier in life than opportunities to use hard drugs, but in fact marijuana does not raise the risk of using harder drugs.

Hence due to many conflicting researches, misinformation, reserved judgments and personal experiences many individuals, including politicians and policy makers disagree with eachother in their opinions about marijuana. One fact remains; marijuana is a safe drug, relatively speaking, it is certainly much safer than alcohol which attacks the liver and causes a higher risk of motor accidents, and way safer than hard drugs such as cocaine or heroin.

A Majority Of Americans Now Support Marijuana Legalization

In recent years, support for marijuana legalization reached a fever pitch, and a majority of Americans are now in favor of legalization. According to surveys from Gallup, support for legalization rose from 12 percent in 1970 to 31 percent in 2000 to 58 percent in 2015.

This support however varies from generation to generation, where more than two-thirds of millennials support legalizing marijuana, but support is lower among older age groups.

Marijuana Legalization Came As A Byproduct Of  The Failure Of War On Drugs

This change in public opinion could be traced to the failure of war on drugs. There are a lot of studies that claim there is too much risk and not enough reward associated with the war on drugs. A 2014 study from Harold Pollack from University of Chicago and Peter Reuter from University of Maryland found that there’s no evidence that suggests tougher laws and strict punishments will curb drug use compared to lenient punishments. So implementing tougher methods to eliminate drug distribution doesn’t help in restricting drug use.

Johns Hopkins-Lancet Commission on Public Health and International Drug Policy, said that the drug policies and laws meant to uphold social discipline and uphold healthy culture have created to “lethal violence, communicable disease transmission, discrimination, forced displacement, unnecessary physical pain, and the undermining of people’s right to health.”

The report argued that decriminalizing non-violent minor drug offenses and strengthening health and social services would be more effective than current approaches, on the basis of “compelling evidence” from countries such as Portugal and the Czech Republic. There is compelling evidence that by decriminalizing non-violent minor drug crimes, these countries have seen “significant public health benefits, cost savings, and lower incarceration with no significant increase in problematic drug use,” according to the report.

Due to similar studies reaching towards many educated citizens and marijuana advocates there has been a public outcry for more favorable policies towards marijuana, allowing it to be shown, for once in a good light globally. For such massive support from the public, policy makers have opted for less controversial means to an end, meaning they have made weed legal, but have attached many loopholes.

Sixteen states have opted for decriminalizing marijuana but not completely legalizing it, so possession of small amounts of weed no longer carries criminal penalties like prison time, but possession of larger amounts of pot and trafficking remain criminally illegal.

Moreover, twenty-five states and district of Washington, DC, allow medical marijuana for various purposes, although their policies differ significantly. Some states like California, allow medical marijuana dispensaries and home cultivation. Other states such as Alaska, only allow home cultivation. And a few, such as Delaware, allow dispensaries but not home cultivation.

Support for pot legalization has also come from influential figures such as President Obama who in January of this year came to the defense of weed by telling the U.S. Supreme Court that they should not even entertain a lawsuit raised by Oklahoma and Nebraska, whose politicians were strongly against the idea and tried to sue to bring an end to legalized pot in Colorado.

On 2nd May, the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board once again held a meeting to urge the Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner into accepting their proposed medical marijuana expansion plan. The board wants Rauner’s administration to accept Type 1 diabetes and panic disorder into the list of medical conditions which can be treated with medical marijuana.

 What Are The Future Predictions Of Marijuana Usage?

As we get to see different policies being implemented in different countries, we get to know one thing for sure it was a high time for a change. The majority of world’s marijuana users are supplied by unregulated criminal organizations markets. The health and social harms associated with this illegal trade motivated Uruguay in 2013 to become the first country to legalise and regulate the production and sale of cannabis for non-medical use. Compared to Colorado which is the most lucrative business-wise, seeing profits of up to $3.5 million in untaxed money, the Uruguayan model remains the one favored by many policy makers.

it is far more controlled than that in Colorado and Washington. The government has an invested monopoly at wholesale level, and licensed firms to produce cannabis, which is limited to around five cannabis strains with upper limits on potency levels which are then sold in government- authorized pharmacies. Non-medical use is also rationed to no more than 40 g a month per user.

Advertisements and smoking in smoke-free areas is totally banned. In addition to state licensed cultivation, the government allows limited home production of up to six plants, and it permits cannabis clubs, which can plant a maximum of 99 plants per month. All purchasers are registered by a new state agency called the Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis.

What currently prevents transparency in marijuana legalization policies is the concern of marijuana legalization leading to increased marijuana consumption. Which is true if we look at a Norwegian study in 2013 that observed at the mean concentration of THC in the blood of apprehended drivers in Norway, between 2000 and 2010? The study found that THC levels rose substantially by 58% over the decade.

National level evidence from the US also shows that cannabis dependency is increasingly a primary cause of admission to substance misuse treatment centers for young people. Hence marijuana legalization has its fair share of problems.

Supporters of reform, however, have rightly pointed out that the current rise of marijuana occurred during inhibition adding fuel to the age old argument that prohibiting something makes it all the more tempting, especially for young individuals who are curious as it is, and are generally inclined towards reckless behavior.

A good supporting evidence of their argument is the Netherlands where marijuana has been legal for 40 years, the population of marijuana users remains similar to that in neighboring countries and below European average.

So there is a big conflict of interest between policymakers and drug advocates. What’s interesting to know is that the United Nations Drug Convention which makes the policies for drug use other that criminalise the use and possession of controlled drugs, including cannabis, for uses other than medical and scientific purposes.

They also strictly prohibit any domestic market in the substances, need to adopt structurally strong policies that will stand the test of time and won’t be a complete waste of government finances as they have been in the past.

A policy paper on marijuana regulation for the Addiction and Lifestyles in Contemporary Europe—Reframing Addictions Project (ALICERAP), a $15m research project funded by the European Commission to feed scientific evidence into policy making, concluded: “The world is saddled with drug treaties which are not fit for purpose.” What is interesting to see how the future of these policies will shape up to be since a fine balance is vitally required.

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