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Public Health Issues Regarding Recreational Marijuana

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As the November election approaches, legalizing recreational marijuana may become a reality. The decision to legalize falls into our hands, the voters. The Lower Township Healthy Youth Coalition would like to make you aware of some concerning public health issues.

  • Concern 1 - Legalizing recreational marijuana will not bring in the tax revenue expected. Missing from that argument is the reality that the legalization and commercialization of marijuana has real societal costs associated. Some include paying for increased emergency room visits, medical care, and addiction treatment for the uninsured. There will be more victims of driving accidents, an increase in crime, along with the negative effects on health from secondhand smoke.
  • Concern 2 - Marijuana is not a benign drug. Newly developed strains of marijuana are far more potent than what people smoked in the past. A huge increase in the level of THC, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, has risen from about 3% to more than 20%. Some marijuana concentrates even contain close to 100% THC. States where recreational marijuana has been legalized have seen a dramatic increase in children and teenagers receiving emergency room treatment for marijuana toxicity.
  • Concern 3 - Legalizing recreational marijuana is not the solution to addressing issues of systemic injustice by reducing the number of minorities that are arrested for marijuana. Statistics in legalized states indicate that arrests are down, but there is no significant evidence that shows legalizing recreational marijuana has decreased the number of minorities arrested are less in proportion to Caucasians. Legalization only addresses a symptom and does not address the causes of injustice. In addition, research shows that most retailers will be located in struggling neighborhoods.  
  • Concern 4 - The black market will not disappear when recreational marijuana is legalized. The black market is stronger than ever in states that have legalized recreational marijuana. Prices charged by state-licensed sellers will have to incorporate licensing, overhead, and state taxes into their prices. Those higher prices can be easily be undercut by the drug cartels.
  • Concern 5 - Crime will not decrease. Marijuana legalization has been promoted as a public health measure to decrease drug-related crime, and as a solution to the harms caused by marijuana criminalization, including incarceration. This claim has not been validated and must be weighed against the potential negative consequences. Legalization of recreational marijuana will reduce the public perception of its risks and will increase the social acceptability of use.

If legalization does occur it will also create serious problems for our local businesses and our community. Employers will face a greater risk of lawsuits when dealing inappropriately with employees and patrons under the influence. Much of this is unchartered territory and there are no straightforward guidelines and procedures in place to protect the employee or the employer. Also, driving under the influence puts all drivers at risk, and there is not a reliable on-site test for checking if someone is driving under the influence of marijuana.

If recreational marijuana does pass, there will be many more issues that will have to be addressed locally. Ordinances will need to be created or redefined to indicate where marijuana can be grown and locations it can be sold. But that leads to a lot of questions:

  • Will limits need to be set on quantities that can be sold?
  • What regulations will need to be in place for the sales of concentrates, topicals, and edibles?
  • Where will it be legal to smoke?
  • How will police determine if someone is driving under the influence, and how will our small business owners determine if someone is incapacitated to do their job?

And answering these questions are just the tip of the iceberg.

Decriminalization may be part of the solution. Decriminalization removes criminal penalties for certain lesser drug law violations (usually possession for personal use). By decriminalizing possession and investing in treatment and harm reduction services, we can reduce the harms of drug misuse while improving public safety and health.

The Lower Township Healthy Youth Coalition members are committed to helping protect the community from the consequences of substance misuse and abuse, especially among our youth. We can help by gathering the data needed to make informed decisions, and by researching ordinances and best practices that have proved successful throughout the nation. We can help by disseminating information and by rallying support in the decision-making process. Please use the coalition as a resource. Visit www.LTHYC.org or call 609-522-5960 for more information.

Thank you for your time,

On behalf of the Lower Township Healthy Youth Coalition

Ordered and paid for by Lower Township Healthy Youth Coalition, 3819 New Jersey Avenue, Wildwood, NJ 08260.

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