I agree that we need to take cannabis legalization seriously (“Vaping conversation needs to get real on marijuana,” Nov. 6) to both minimize risk for young people and address public health concerns. But it’s clear that prohibition is not accomplishing either goal.

We can’t ignore the fact that the underground market is thriving and prohibition is not a barrier to use. Access is only going to grow as neighboring states continue to legalize cannabis for adult use. In a state with a poor medical program, quality, regulated product is often sought after, but is not always an immediate option.

Cannabis prohibition causes more harm than good and it limits lawmakers’ ability to solve problems caused by our current system.

Regarding the main concern on vaping, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently pointed to vitamin E acetate as the cause for the recent spate of vaping-related injuries, noting its use as a cutting agent or additive on the illicit market to stretch the supply with THC vaping cartridges. A well-regulated market where the product is tested could have prevented this. Not knowing what a substance may contain continues to be the largest health risk of prohibition.

Mishek mentions that Hazelden Betty Ford yearly treats more than 1,000 clients with cannabis use disorder, who also have other substance use and mental health disorders. Simply pointing out cannabis use disorder ignores the complexities of both poly-substance use, co-occurring disorders and addiction itself. And by way of comparison, 22,087 were admitted to treatment for alcohol in Minnesota in 2017, 14,511 for methamphetamines and 11,774 for opioids. Another statistic I find startling is that about 30% of all treatment referrals come from within the criminal justice system.

Yes, more research needs to be done on the effects of cannabis use on developing brains. But prohibition severely limits our ability to mitigate negative impacts on adolescents. In states that have legalized cannabis, there is evidence that youth use rates have actually gone down. And, as with alcohol and tobacco, policymakers have never advocated for expanding access to adolescents. We should treat cannabis the same as those products, by shifting the extensive underground market to one that has similar regulations and protections against youth access.

Lawmakers have indicated that revenue generated from taxation will be used to help address concerns about public health and adolescents. We should also focus on reducing the harms of substance use and provide evidence-based drug education programs about substance use — expanding beyond curriculum like Know the Truth. We can work toward reducing youth use through effective programming without threatening children with a criminal record — a tactic that has been grossly ineffective at curbing use.

Not only has the juvenile justice system been shown to not reduce usage rates, it has been shown to increase recidivism and create barriers for both completion of education and employment opportunities, as well as disproportionately affecting young people of color.

In legalizing cannabis for adult use, we need to be thoughtful, use facts and common sense, and address legitimate concerns.


Rory O’Brien is the chapter leader of Minneapolis College Students for Sensible Drug Policy.