The only sentence we can agree with in Rory O’Brien’s Dec. 16 counterpoint “Marijuana prohibition is driving tainted product” is: “In legalizing cannabis for adult use we need to be thoughtful, use facts and common sense, and address legitimate concerns.” At Smart Approaches to Marijuana Minnesota, here are the facts:

1) It is true that youth cannabis use in some commercial states has gone down, but these states have a 25% higher rate of cannabis use disorders among young people compared with states without commercial legalization. (JAMA Network, Nov. 13.)

2) Legalization has not led to better product. Since it become legal in Oregon in 2014, the state has tested only 3% of retailers and found marijuana “contained more than a dozen chemicals, including a common household roach killer.” (The Oregonian, posted Jan. 30.) In Denver, in testing at 25 dispensaries, 80% failed. (Westworld, posted Oct. 30.)

3) In his response to a Nov. 6 counterpoint by Mark Mishek, president and CEO of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation (“Vaping conversation needs to get real on marijuana”), O’Brien, chapter leader of Minneapolis College Students for Sensible Drug Policy, conflates Hazelden’s results with those of Minnesota’s. What is more concerning is that Mishek noted that 90% of Hazelden’s adolescents admitted for treatment had a cannabis use disorder as part of their diagnosis.

4) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated on its website that there were 152 different “brands” involved in the recent lung injury cases. While it is true that most were from black-market sources, some involved product sold in stores. While vitamin E acetate was identified as a contributing factor, the CDC further states: “However, there are many different substances and product sources that remain under investigation, and there may be more than one cause.”

5) It is true that in the past there were restrictions on the studies of marijuana. Other countries have done long-term studies so there is data. However, there is no research on the effects of vaping 70% to 90% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol — the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects). In Indiana between 2012 and 2018, vaping among adolescents increased 300%. (WFYI, Indianapolis, posted Aug. 29). Current research has shown that moderate to heavy marijuana use in teens has led to lower IQs, slower cognitive functioning and increased risk of mental health issues. (PNAS, “Impact of adolescent marijuana use on intelligence,” 2016; JAMA, “Effects of Cannabis Use on Human Behavior, Including Cognition, Motivation, and Psychosis: A Review,” 2016.)

6) Last, there is a myth that the taxes collected by the state will be a windfall. A study by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University estimated the Colorado would spend $4.57 on support services (hospital, medical, traffic, legal and lost productivity) for every dollar of tax revenue. Nationally, we spend $13 (Science Daily, posted 2014) and $9 (CDC, tobacco statistics) for every $1 received in alcohol and tobacco, respectively. Why would we spend less on another addictive substance?

7) The government prohibits all sorts of behavior. It prohibits speeding, not wearing seat belts and smoking indoors. All these have led to saving lives. In fact, the prohibition of alcohol reduced public drunkenness and domestic abuse and dramatically reduces liver disease. None of the current states have been successful in prohibiting adolescent use, and 80% of high school seniors said getting marijuana or alcohol was “somewhat” or “fairly” easy. (Monitoring the Future Survey, 2018.)

So we agree: Let’s be thoughtful and use facts.


Judson Bemis is chair of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Minnesota (SAMMn).