Over holiday break I visited some family in Colorado, and while there, I was fortunate enough to witness one of the most momentous events in recent history; the legalization of recreational marijuana in that state. While I did not participate in the festivities, I did see the long lines that stretched far out the doors to the dispensaries and the happy faces of people that looked as though they had finally won a hard fought revolution.
Colorado and Washington are thus far the only states that have legalized the use of recreational marijuana. While not all counties support the use and still deem it illegal, many parts of Colorado are littered with dispensaries, and it seems like only a matter of time before it’s fully statewide. The drug has very much taken root and could very well become a common pastime for many people.
It seems nationwide, the perception of marijuana has begun to change. Illinois has recently joined the growing list of states that have legalized medical marijuana, though likely a year will pass before it is actually implemented. Still, with Colorado and Washington paving the way for recreational use, and nearly half of the country already legalizing its medical use, it seems reasonable to think that within this decade recreational use could become legalized throughout more states.
While some may be excited about this prospect, I can’t help but wonder if our nation may be rushing this process. While the tax dollars that could be gained, as well as the incarceration costs that could be saved are undoubtedly appealing, there is still so much in the unknown when it comes to the health effects of marijuana.
The positive effects of marijuana are still widely debated, though there is some general consensus. The drug is most often prescribed to treat patients needing pain relief or to stimulate diet. Some of the more radical claims, such as the belief that marijuana can kill cancer cells, are still under scrutiny. However, there are enough benefits that some doctors prescribe it, and there are many that would testify to its effectiveness.
Despite these health benefits, there are plenty of reasons to wonder if the risks outweigh them. The Food and Drug Administration has yet to deem marijuana as medicine due to these severe health concerns. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s website, “[Marijuana] impairs short-term memory and motor coordination; slows reaction time; alters mood, judgment, and decision-making; and in some people can cause severe anxiety (paranoia) or psychosis (loss of touch with reality). And marijuana is addictive…”
Of course, there are also studies that have linked marijuana to impairing brain functions, damaging memory, having negative effects on offspring and even causing cancer. However, these reports seem to differ and are in no way conclusive. Several different reports, whether they support the use of the drug or not, seem to often have a bias which can skew facts as well.
However, it is because of all these conflicting reports that makes the legalizing of recreational marijuana, or even medicinal, so perplexing. Should such legislation be passed when there is still so much that isn’t certain? Until there are more unbiased reports on the effects of marijuana that can create some kind of consensus, it seems that even the status of medicinal marijuana should be much more dubious.
Our country is still a long ways from widespread legalization of marijuana. Depending on the success of the markets in Colorado and Washington, some other states may be tempted but there is still too much to sort out. The debate as to the effects on drivers and children alone will likely stall the process for some time.
And perhaps that is a good thing. For a drug that is seeing more legal use, there is still much research that needs to be done before we fully understand what exactly this drug does and doesn’t do. The fact that the FDA has yet to recognize it as a form of medicine supports this. Time will show us some of these effects in the states of Colorado and Washington, but until then a push for more research and studies needs to occur.
Nick Ulferts is a junior english education major and columnist for The Vidette. Any questions or comments regarding his column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.