Early this year, about the same time several sponsors and co-sponsors introduced House Bill 110 to legalize recreational use of marijuana in Delaware, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine published a major review of the literature on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids, with research-based evidence and recommendations for further research.

This important new study warrants careful attention of Delaware legislators and public health officials before they make marijuana legal for non-medical use.

Here are some of the findings considered to have conclusive, substantial, or moderate evidence listed in the 24-page summary of this 486-page report:

  • There is conclusive evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective for treatment of chronic pain in adults, as antiemetics in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and for improving patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms.
  • There is substantial evidence of a statistical association between long-term cannabis smoking and worse respiratory symptoms and more frequent chronic bronchitis episodes.
  • There is substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and increased risk of motor vehicle crashes.
  • There is substantial evidence of a statistical association between maternal cannabis smoking and lower birth weight of the offspring.
  • There is moderate evidence of a statistical association between acute cannabis use and the impairment in the cognitive domains of learning, memory, and attention.
  • There is substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and the development of schizophrenia or other psychoses, with the highest risk among the most frequent users.
  • There is moderate evidence of a statistical association between a persistence of problem cannabis use and a history of psychiatric treatment and problem cannabis use and increased severity of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

The relationship between schizophrenia and cannabis consumption is moving from a statistical association to one of causation with new studies. Just two months before HB 110 was introduced, Julien Vaucher and a multinational team of 10 other scientists used a genetic methodology to show a 37 percent increase in the risk of schizophrenia for users vs. non-users of cannabis.

As the authors of this study state: “This finding corroborates many previous prospective observational studies that identified cannabis users to be at increased risk of schizophrenia. As cannabis is the leading drug of misuse, this finding is timely to draw attention to the potential mental health consequences of cannabis use and to provide more robust scientific evidence to inform the public health debate on cannabis legalization.”

Certainly, marijuana use in Delaware will continue if recreational use does not become legal. However, legalization is clearly an official stamp of approval that is likely to cause incremental use of this drug that would not happen in the absence of legalization.

The increase in long-term usage that will accompany legalization will increase the social costs associated with more instances of severe and persistent mental illness, more auto accidents, more low-birth-weight babies, more respiratory illnesses, aggravated symptoms of post-traumatic stress, and cognitive impairment.

Besides the negative impact on public health, marijuana legalization will require costly new government agencies. There will be a new Division of Marijuana Control and Enforcement in the Department of Safety and Homeland Security and a Marijuana Control Act Oversight Committee.

As an older baby boomer (I’m 70), I grew up in a culture that considered marijuana to be a harmless, non-addictive way to chill out and get high. Today, there’s plenty of science that tells us that cannabis is anything but harmless. Making it legal would be a mistake. Please don’t make that mistake.

Nick Fina is an information technology and marketing consultant for Willa Road Enablement Services LLC.

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