Andrea Barthwell, FASAM and Robert DuPont, FASAM
| July 31, 2012
As Co-Chairs of the ASAM Writing Committee tasked with developing a response to state-level marijuana legalization proposals, we are proud of ASAM’s leadership and decision to educate its members about the dangers inherent in the policy proposals to legalize marijuana.
Many physicians have serious, legitimate concerns about how drug use and drug addiction is treated within the United States. Some look to marijuana legalization proposals as ways to separate the problem of addiction from the criminal justice system. Others look to legalization proposals as ways to increase funding of treatment. We recognize that the marijuana policy issues are complex and we may never achieve consensus in this policy arena. What is abundantly clear to us as a result of the writing process and our research is that such proposals, if passed, would directly impact our nation’s health. Specifically, rates of marijuana use and substance use disorders, including addiction, would increase.
The full extent of outcomes of marijuana legalization is truly unknown because nowhere in the world is the use, sales, and production of marijuana legal. But, based on what is known about the harmful effects of marijuana use and the relationship of marijuana use by youth to its availability and perception of harm, we know we cannot support marijuana legalization.
Availability and access to screening, diagnosis, and treatment for marijuana-related substance use disorders must be improved, but these changes are not tied solely to the illegal status of marijuana.
As physicians in the leading organization specializing in addiction medicine, we see daily examples in our practices that marijuana is a drug of abuse that has serious negative consequences for many users. While legal drugs of alcohol and tobacco currently cause the most serious damage, both in terms of costs and harm to public health and public safety, states with active “medical” marijuana industries have begun to see the costs of quasi-legal marijuana.
Proposals to make marijuana – or any other drug of abuse – more widely available and acceptable, cannot be supported by addiction specialists. The public health is not served by expanded availability, increased acceptability or commercial activities that promote and seek to extend marijuana use.
We thank ASAM for providing much-needed leadership on this relevant public health policy issue.