New York Times Calls for Legalization of Marijuana, ASAM Strongly Objects

by ASAM Staff | July 28, 2014

CHEVY CHASE, MD, July 28 2014 - The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) strongly objects to federally legalizing marijuana use, opposing The New York Times' lead editorial, "Repeal Prohibition, Again," that appeared Sunday, July 27. Stuart Gitlow, MD, president of ASAM and a board-certified addiction medicine specialist, called the paper’s stance “irresponsible” and “ignorant of the facts” that clearly place marijuana on the continuum of psychoactive drugs that trigger addiction and lifelong chronic brain disease.

ASAM, the largest American medical professional society dedicated to the treatment and prevention of addiction, has examined the medical and recreational use of marijuana and the public health consequences of both. In neither case does the Society find sufficient evidence to support the notion that any perceived public health benefits of using the illicit drug outweigh the dangers to marijuana users and to their communities.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is an intoxicating drug that impairs memory, motor function, and, when smoked, short-term and long-term respiratory health. And, for nearly one in ten habitual users, marijuana is addictive and can lead to chronic brain disease.

“Addiction is a chronic brain disease that can affect people at any age. In fact, the younger one initiates alcohol or drug use, the greater the likelihood that he or she has addictive disease,” says Dr. Gitlow. “The addicted brain doesn’t care if the substance is alcohol or marijuana; both can be very dangerous, particularly to the naïve user.”

ASAM rejects the Times’ position that marijuana has been treated in the same manner as alcohol, and that its long-held illegality is akin to Prohibition. As Dr. Gitlow says, the paper’s alcohol/Prohibition analogy is poor on several levels: “At the start of Prohibition, alcohol consumption per capita was twice what it was at the end of Prohibition, proving Prohibition reduced the public's alcohol intake. Likewise, the rate of alcohol-associated illness dropped. Prohibition was eventually a political failure, but it was an impressive success from a public health stand point.”

ASAM supports public policies that provide prevention and treatment for the chronic brain disease of substance addiction that affects 23 million Americans. Dr. Gitlow cautions that “this requires, however, that substances of abuse are not made more easily available or made to seem less dangerous than they really are.”

ASAM encourages The New York Times to re-examine its official editorial stance and to start building public awareness for addiction as a chronic brain disease that has proven methods for prevention and treatment, whether the addictive substance is alcohol, nicotine, marijuana or prescription opioids.

ASAM looks forward to partnering with The New York Times and other leading media and public education outlets to advance science-based policies that deter unhealthy substance use of all types and promote access to medical and behavioral treatment for those who need it.

Read the release here


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  2. Daniel Sumrok MD FAAFP DABAM/ASAM Oct 01, 2014 - 06:03 PM

    Since the response, research has been published that documents a reduction in opioid related deaths in states that allow patients access to marijuana.

    Harm  reduction is the ethical basis of MAT.

    Methadone is often associated with drug related deaths and buprenorphine continues to be misunderstood by professionals and the public and access remains limited.

    While the caveats around cannabis use reflect real science and cannot be ignored the overstated dangers around what has become a folk/home  remedy create more heat than light.

    Individual liberty is at stake and criminalizing this choice seems counterproductive vis a vis community health and respect for rule of law when community will is demonstrated at the ballot box.

    Respectfully submitted Dr Gitlow's opinion is worth considering but does not represent consistency.

    While it would seem unwise to consume cannabis for the 14 year old studying for the physics exam it is not the threat to life that seeking relief through benzodiazepines and/ or opioids.

    I expect the SAT scores of users may be reduced but I have yet to see a cannabis related death.

    I have seen many mothers bury teens who chose narcotics.

    Their sobs echo in my memory.Their sorrows are inconsolable.

    Our opinions must be more nuanced if we are credible.












  3. Michael W Shore, M.D. Aug 06, 2014 - 10:08 PM
    "Intelligent and Informed people may disagree".  Certainly that is the case here.  I do feel that it is best that ASAM presents a viewpoint that is consistent with the majority of it's members.  The NY Times Opinion includes many issues that are troubling and which they considered in their position.  Yes the problem of patients having addiction to MJ and also then being exposed to other drugs is very real.  The problem of teen and young adult MJ use has been well documented and discussed with attention to delays in achieving brain maturity and higher executive functions.  But, it is very real that many individuals who have a "criminal record" with regard to MJ often have this follow them their entire life.  I have several patients with sustained and stable recovery who can't get past backround checks for jobs, housing and other life priorities.  It is also very real that MJ convictions are over represented in the minority community.  It is also likely that a "bite" out of organized crime would follow legalization.  Tax revenue could be used to fund treatment programs.  Finally, we all know individuals who use limited amounts of MJ in the privacy of their home, without children under their care and without driving who do not have any problems with this anymore than the occasional social drinker.  Except if their employment does drug testing !!  I do fear however that legalization will send the wrong message to young people and susceptible individuals (e.g. with psychiatric conditions and/or other addictive disorders) that previous messages about the dangers of marijuana were overblown and that it is "OK" to use it.  This is such a complicated issue.  We need the wisdom of Solomon.  Michael W. Shore, M.D.
  4. Andrea Truncali, MD MPH Aug 06, 2014 - 01:38 PM
    KUDOS. As a practicing addiction medicine physician with a public health background, I would advocate that Dr Gitlow's messages be sent loudly, and clearly, from the medical community. Because we allow social problems from alcohol and tobacco does not mean we should endorse similar approaches to marijuana. Do we  want to put our children onto roads with more impaired drivers, contend with ever more disability forms for 'depression and anxiety' induced by marijuana use, or waste our next generation's precious IQ points fulfilling the marijuana industry's business plan? Policy around marijuana should be thoughtful and science based. The NY Times editorial seemed to me an evidence-free, barely examined expression that misused its privilege to present an informed opinion to the public.
  5. Dr. Eugene J. Koprowski Aug 06, 2014 - 12:30 PM

    I completely support ASAM's position on this matter, and laud the leadership for having the courage to take on what used to be called the top of the "liberal establishment," i.e., the New York Times.

    Bravo, doctors. Well done.

  6. Eric Jaffa Aug 06, 2014 - 08:57 AM
    Does ASAM want America to return to Alcohol Prohibition?

    If not, what is the point of saying that there was less alcohol consumption during Prohibition?

    Alcohol is more dangerous than pot.  If banning it decreases use, but it should be legal anyway, then the same applies to pot.
  7. Art Martin Aug 05, 2014 - 12:11 PM

    As a Practicing physician it is astounding that in this day and age, after repeated generations of failed drug policy, the ASAM reiterates a 19th century approach.  True Science, Leadership and guidance are critical at this juncture.

  8. Robert Taylor Aug 05, 2014 - 08:46 AM
    I don't believe anyone who works with addiction believes cannabis is harmless.  Is it any more harmful than alcohol or nicotine is the real question.  I think the answer is no.  Unless ASAM and similar organizations want to embrace the cause of banning alcohol and nicotine, then supporting, or at least not vociferously opposing, MJ legalization is the only possible approach.  Keeping MJ illegal is only creating a criminal where one doesn'y realy exist.  Self-efficacy suggests that we let our clients (patients) make their own decisions.  Legality does not affect treatment. 

    Comparing the current MJ situation is fine, MJ has been through its Prohibition period.  It's time to rescind that ban, and bring more intelligence into the  "War on Drugs" perhaps making it about treatment versus punishment. 
  9. Stuart Githigh Aug 02, 2014 - 10:35 AM

    To who. It may concern,

    I too was disappointed to hear Stuarts option be put out as if he really knows what he's talking about. The arrogance amazed me in this article how he supports alcohol way over marijuana when everyone knows there two totally completely different drugs that have a totally different affect in the brain. Anyone who has ever experienced it's use knows that. This guy calls himself a medical doctor but spews his own personal opinions that are not medically proven by anyone to be accurate. He is spreading in accurate information which can be proven that marijuana not only is a drug that is safe to use but us most importantly a drug safe to administer for healing the sick and freeing people from pain. Is this a natural grown plant from Mother Earth or a synthetically produced an made drug from a pharmaceutical company that may have an influence in his annual salary. Oh snap!

  10. George Kolodner Jul 31, 2014 - 10:40 PM
    As an ASAM member who does NOT support legalization, I am nevertheless embarrassed by Stuart's statement. I would like to know how the decision was made to allow him to speak for our entire organization in such a provocative manner on such a complex issue.

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