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POINT: The Dangers of Legal Marijuana Outweigh the Benefits

For an alternate point of view, see: COUNTERPOINT: PA Should Join Neighboring States to Legalize Marijuana 

When I was in high school 20 years ago, marijuana use was generally confined to buying dime bags of dry flower that had a THC potency in the single digits (THC is the psychoactive component of marijuana that gives the high). No one was vaping marijuana because vaping wasn’t around yet.

Today, not only has marijuana flower been industrialized to produce upwards of 30 percent THC and more, but you have a host of new delivery mechanisms – including vapes that come in a kids’ menu of flavors like Blueberry Cookies and Orange Crush – that can range between 80-90 percent THC and higher.

No longer are teachers and educators just finding a few students smoking weed under the football field bleachers but are now confronting students vaping marijuana in school, not only in bathrooms but right in the classroom as well, with devices disguised as USB drives and even yellow highlighters.

We have never experienced a time in history when the potency strength of manufactured marijuana is as high and in such a diverse set of products as it is today, and children and young adults are using today’s marijuana at record rates. Both facts are colliding, and the impact of this wreckage is made significantly worse by a state government that encourages its recreational use through legalization.

Earlier this year, researchers at Temple University released a study finding that more children and young adults use marijuana because of states legalizing its recreational use, particularly due to the lowering of perceived harm by making it legal. It is a logical conclusion: if you increase access, you increase use.

We know that using today’s industrialized marijuana with upwards of 99 percent THC can have damaging health consequences, including marijuana use disorder (MUD), the medical term for addiction; risks that increase exponentially for those using in their mid-20’s or earlier as it impacts their developing brain.

“The risk of developing marijuana use disorder is stronger in people who start using marijuana during youth or adolescence,” states the CDC. And according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), addiction rates nearly double when you start using before age 18.

Addiction to marijuana? Yes, science has proven today’s marijuana can absolutely be addictive, and rates are steadily increasing. Yet there are some Pennsylvania state lawmakers who dismiss the addictive traits of marijuana. State Representative Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) has gone so far as to claim not only that marijuana is not dangerous or addictive but that the only thing at risk with legalizing marijuana for recreational use is potato chips and Fritos – alluding to getting “the munchies” after use.

Not only is this joke insulting to families who have been directly impacted by the harms of marijuana use, but it denies the existing science and evidence that are contrary to those archaic claims. There’s a reason why every major medical association is opposed to legalizing recreational use.

We know that there has been a significant change in potency strength in the last decade. In 2014, Washington State’s total market of manufactured marijuana extracts was 9 percent. Today, extracts are now 35 percent of the market. This growth has led to calls for potency caps.

“Twenty years ago, prescription opioids were seen as a breakthrough in pain relief,” writes The Seattle Times Editorial Board. “We understand now the human costs of addiction and dysfunction. This state should not make the same mistake with high-potency marijuana.”

We also know that, in states like Colorado, the commercialized sale of marijuana – backed by Big Tobacco and their predatory history of targeting teens for addiction – has led to more marijuana shops than McDonalds and Starbucks combined. This market proliferation is also reflective in the use of social media and billboards advertising these harmful products.

Additional harms caused by marijuana legalization include an increase in DUIs and drugged driving fatalities. Evidence from the two states who started experimenting with marijuana legalization for recreational use, Colorado and Washington State, both witnessed an increase in motor vehicle accidents and fatalities.

A 19-year old woman from Pennsylvania was recently charged with involuntary manslaughter and DUI after having marijuana in her system when she was driving and killed a motorcyclist and father of three. If we don’t want an increase in these types of scenarios, then we should listen to law enforcement and safety associations like AAA and oppose marijuana legalization for recreational use.

When voters are given options of marijuana policy that are not just a one-size-fits-all model for recreational use, options that include ways to address the criminal justice system, voters often do not favor full recreational sales.

Here in Pennsylvania, there are options available to our state lawmakers to improve our medical marijuana program. The question is who do we help: an addiction-for-profit industry or our children? Will we protect public health and safety or subject communities to the harms caused by commercializing manufactured marijuana?

I know my choice.


STEIDLER: Government Bumbling Leaves Billions of Opioid Pills for Misuse

Leave it to Washington to make a federal project out of something that can be safely and easily thrown in the trash or handled in other ways.

At issue are billions of unused, no longer medically needed prescription opioid pills, which remain susceptible to misuse.

More than 1 million Americans have died of a drug overdose since 1999, including 80,411 from opioids alone in 2021. The over-availability of opioids has been integral to this crisis.

When a patient no longer needs prescribed opioids for severe pain relief, the unused pills are a lurking danger that can lead to drug abuse by the patient or, worse, children and others in the home.

To help save lives and prevent addictions, it is crucial to destroy and dispose of unused, no-longer-needed opioids immediately.

Fortunately, in the last five years, numerous programs have facilitated this.

These include widespread take-back programs at pharmacies, police stations and other venues. Another option is commercially available in-home disposal kits that are inexpensive and easy to use.

Many government agencies offer clear and simple instructions so that opioids can easily be turned into junk at home by combining them with kitty litter, coffee grinds and other unpalatable pollutants and then thrown into the trash. Opioids, though, should not be crushed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 142 million prescriptions for opioids dispensed in 2020. On September 12, during a court trial, the Associated Press reported that the Drug and Enforcement Administration disclosed “that in 2019, 8.8 billion dosage units — pills, patches and lollipops — were shipped for 12 common opioids.”

Even today, there are a lot of excess pills prescribed. On June 26, after an assessment of numerous studies, the Food and Drug Administration said “most studies reported that 50 to 70 percent of tablets went unused.”

Yet, federal health officials, particularly the FDA, have squandered mainly an opportunity to aggressively promote a public health campaign about the continued dangers of unused opioids and the many ways to get rid of them safely and quickly. Fortunately, communities and others picked up the slack.

The FDA has also become primarily focused on a new way to dispose of these narcotics: through the U.S. mail. Yes, the U.S. mail, the theft of which is today at unprecedented heights.

Since April 2022, the FDA has been fielding comments and developing a program by which the U.S. Postal Service is envisioned to be widely used for patients to mail unused opioids back to drug manufacturers. This would be the case even though many of the same pharmacies providing a pre-paid envelope also have take-back programs.

The FDA’s strong emphasis on promoting a mail-back program since 2022, which it aims to start in 2024, may already have the unintended consequence of cannibalizing other successful disposal efforts and stymying their growth.

Fourteen attorneys general expressed strong concerns about this in a June 21 letter to the FDA.

“It is critical the FDA reconsider its unproven one-size-fits-all mail-back proposal and instead choose to promote and educate Americans on all available in-home disposal options,” they said.

The other concerns raised were “the insecurity of mailboxes and inconvenience for many rural Americans. A critical component of providing any in-home disposal option is providing a solution that will immediately rid the home of the medication in question.”

Against this backdrop, there appears to be hopeful news: significantly more Americans are responsibly disposing of unused opioids now than five years ago when such programs started.

In 2022, a study in the medical journal Cureus found that 94 percent of patients receiving opioid prescriptions reported having leftover, unused opioids. Sixty-nine percent claimed to dispose of their prescription opioids, while 31 percent did not.

Whatever course the FDA decides, communities, state governments, pharmacies and others should continue and accelerate their take-back and public education destruction programs.

And if you have unused opioids at home, plan to get rid of them — within the next 24 hours.

McOSCAR: Death, Taxes and Legalized Marijuana

Several friends were milling about talking over sports and such when our conversation abruptly took a serious turn.

The catalyst for the change was the death certificate in my hand. The deceased was a friend’s 35-year-old former husband and the father of their 7-year-old daughter.

The document told his story: Time of death “Approx-0705,” Immediate Cause of Death “Adverse effect of drugs, ” Interval Between Onset and Death “A few minutes, ” Manner of Death “Accident.”

Odds are marijuana was the gateway drug to his 20-year addiction. Of the many addicts I have known, the majority will attest that marijuana was their first drug of choice.

To quote one young man about his first high, “ The feeling was incredible. All my social anxiety instantly went away.” His descent into addiction was driven by his pursuit of that first sensation.

The conversation then turned to the incongruity between the push to legalize marijuana and the so-called “ War on Drugs.”

It beggars belief that anyone the least bit acquainted with the insidious progression of drug addiction would ever call for the legalization of marijuana, the gateway drug to every more powerful and deadly drug on the market.

What sticks in my craw most is the unconscionable duplicity among certain politicians who attempt to have it both ways: Legalize marijuana for the tax revenue it offers while covering their tail by pouring millions of dollars into the largely symbolic (“We’re doing something!”) and astonishingly unproductive (no measures of efficacy) “War on Drugs.”

In his Feb. 16 Wall Street Journal column, “Super Bowl of Sin Taxes,” Daniel Henninger strikes a similar note.

His topic was sin taxes, specifically legalized gambling and legalized marijuana, and the windfall in tax revenues they generate to state and federal coffers. New Jersey, the U. S. sports-bet capital, took in $200 million in gambling tax revenue last year.

Sixty percent of Americans favor medical and recreational marijuana use. Recreational marijuana is now legal in 18 states and Washington D. C.

New York’s Sen. Chuck Schumer plans to introduce a federal legalization bill in April. It has a cannabis tax that starts at 10 percent and rises eventually to 25 percent.

Henninger writes that sin and sin taxes are now passé. Consequently, much of contemporary American government is now amoral.

“After decades of pretense from government about its good intentions, government doesn’t much care one way or the other anymore.”

“Any previous pro-social purpose, “he writes, “has been overwhelmed by the crude need to maximize revenue no matter the source, especially in open-spigot states such as New York, New Jersey, and Illinois.”

Echoing my annoyance he writes, “We are legalizing marijuana just as opioid addiction and overdoses from ‘recreational’ fentanyl skyrocket.

“In virtually all the legalizations of marijuana or gambling,” he continues, “the politicians include language about creating programs for prevention and rehabilitation. It’s boilerplate, a pro forma caveat that rarely delivers.”

Politicians don’t care that a 7-year-old girl lost her father to drug addiction so long as they get the one thing they want—a steady stream of tax revenue from both users and the commercial cannabis interests.

Deaths are simply an acceptable cost of doing business.

Henninger concludes, “When more people understand that the goal of governments today is to take rather than help, as they piously claim, perhaps we can have a sensible discussion about whom to tax and for what purposes.”

A discussion long past due.

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