ASAM Examines Implications of New Marijuana Laws

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A discussion of marijuana legalization and decriminalization drew a large crowd and stirred debate in a question-and-answer session at the end of Saturday’s ASAM Public Policy Plenary.

As more states look to legalize or decriminalize the use of marijuana, the growing acceptance of its use by the general public has created challenges for ASAM, which holds firm on its position about the dangers of smoking marijuana. A Plenary Session Saturday addressed challenges the Society faces moving forward.

Three speakers looked at how ASAM developed its position, the implications of legalization and decriminalization, and evidence about the effects of marijuana use.

Discussing the changes in attitudes toward drug use was Robert DuPont, MD, FASAM, a former Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The general public often does not differentiate between legalization and decriminalization, he said.

“Not going to prison for marijuana possession is very different from legalization,” said Dr. DuPont, President of the Institute for Behavior and Health. “The question is, ‘What are we trying to accomplish in this?’ and that has to do with limiting the damage for the nonmedical use. That is our challenge.”

Dr. DuPont supports ASAM’s approach of developing a white paper on the role of physicians in the use of medical marijuana and research on how chemicals in marijuana might be used for medical treatments.

“ASAM is all in favor of studying cannabinoids and using them as pharmaceuticals in an appropriate way for specific indications,” he said. “It is interesting the opponents do not support research, they just want ‘smoke dope.’

“What is the goal of public policy? Is it to end this false war on drugs or reduce the serious health consequences resulting from the use of many drugs? The answers to this will set the future of drug policy.”

Warning about the dangers of legalization was Kevin Sabet, PhD, Director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida.

“The question we have to ask about legalization is not if it’s OK for a 60-year-old-guy to smoke a joint in the basement once a week. I would not be concerned if that is what we were talking about. I am concerned that this is the creation of the next big tobacco and the next corporate industry,” he said. “The reality is that when we talk about legalization, we are talking about creating a corporate industry…an industry that could promote addiction and target kids.”

Looking at the evidence of the effects of marijuana use was Jeffrey Wilkins, MD, FASAM, Vice Chair of Cedars Sinai Medical Center Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience.

Studies show that the regular use of marijuana is linked to diminished IQ, with scores dropping 7 percent between ages 13 and 38, he said. A second study showed a 10 percent drop in IQ scores with daily use.

“This is found in a global way across the brain,” Dr. Wilkins said. “For those who stopped cannabis use, one year later the diminished IQ was still present. This was corroborated by schools, family and so forth.”