David Aucoin: Legalizing Recreational Marijuana in RI

The 2019 General Assembly session is just getting started, and one of the big questions Rhode Islanders will be facing is whether or not “recreational Marijuana” will be legalized. Governor Gina Raimondo has made legalization of recreational marijuana part of her plan for this year. However, during the recent gubernatorial debates each candidate weighed in on the subject.

I was surprised that Governor Raimondo’s response was the only one that I really identified with. She rightfully expressed concern over the effect it would have on families and especially the youth of RI.  If only she would listen to her own words.  As a pastor, father, and grandfather, the effect on families would have been my first concern. I was a teenager in the 60s and well remember the effect “weed” had on me and my whole generation.

This is a subject that everyone and especially the faith community should be concerned about.  You don’t have to go far to find the warning flags. Our governor rightfully said that states around us have or will be going that route, and the pressure will be on Rhode Island to follow suit.  When that argument comes up, I immediately think back to what my dad would say when I wanted permission to do something that wasn’t good for me because all of my friends were doing it. “Dave, if all of your friends were going to jump off a cliff, would you follow them?”  Maybe that expression sounds familiar to you. The imagery is apropos here:  Cliffs are dangerous!

Let me list a few “cliff warnings” from states who have made the jump.

Dr. James Avery, Colorado, in a paper published in the Christian Medical & Dental Associations’ journal, points out that today’s marijuana is different from what many older folks once smoked: “Today’s marijuana is a potent, highly hallucinogenic drug, so recreational use is fraught with danger.”

He goes on to say, “Only a few credible studies have been done (hardly any with THC above 15 %), but they provoke concern about the new marijuana. The higher the THC concentration, the higher the likelihood of first episode psychosis and schizophrenia.”

Avery notes, “Heavy marijuana use can damage brain development in youth ages 13 to 18. … Multiple researchers have all come to the same conclusion: the younger the brain, the worse the effects in both the short-term and long-term.”

That should be reason enough for any conscientious parent or adult to say “no.” Karen Randall, an emergency room doctor in Pueblo, Colorado, with a certificate in Cannabis Science and Medicine, says THC-boosted marijuana “is causing persistent psychosis and there is no recovery.”

As bad as the opioid epidemic is, Dr. Randall says the new marijuana is worse because of the long-term unpredictable effects. Some synthetic cannabinoids are marketed as safe or legal alternatives to grown marijuana, but they affect the brain and endanger people even more. Are we not already experiencing rising suicide rates among teens? And some research shows that the young adult population may be affected most.

A recent article in Influence Magazine highlighted a study by Duke University in 2015.  The study showed that people who started smoking marijuana heavily in their teens and had an ongoing marijuana disorder (addiction) lost an average of 8 IQ points from age 13 to 38! Do we really want that for our RI youth? Two other independent studies have shown that 9–30% of those who use it will develop a disorder (addiction).  For the 30+ years that I have worked with teens, “pot” has always been considered the gateway to heavy drug usage and addiction.

Invariably, the reason for legalizing marijuana ends up being money.  The same Dr. Randall notes that “marijuana advocates have said legalizing recreational marijuana would have positive economic effects, and it’s true that Colorado’s GDP has expanded by 1% because of revenue from legal marijuana sales,” but she also notes that, “the revenue doesn’t begin to pay the bill for the resulting social toll.” 

Contrary to what was expected, legalization is not turning out to be the tax bonanza and the end of illegality that its promoters advertised. The MERRY JANE Web site, a cannabis-focused digital media platform launched by rapper Snoop Dogg in 2015, headlined one story in August, “Weed Is Legal in California, but the Black Market Is Alive and Well.”  Cities are placing high taxes on marijuana, and surveys show that nearly half of pot consumers don’t want to pay more for their marijuana just to be legal.

And as far as marijuana helping to alleviate the opioid epidemic, Dr. Ken Finn, a pain medicine specialist in Colorado Springs for 24 years who serves on Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Council, sees no evidence that marijuana can help scale down someone’s opioid addiction. He says it’s actually contributing to Colorado’s opioid epidemic, as a “companion drug.” It’s scary to think about the effect it will have on family life here in the Ocean State.

May God bless Rhode Island in 2019 with health and happiness.

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