When New Jersey’s Democratic leaders saw a handful of other states legalize the use of marijuana for pleasure and grab hundreds of millions in taxes and fees on it, they moved quickly to do the same here. They apparently thought that was enough justification for N.J. state government to enter this lucrative business for what is still a federally illegal narcotic.
It isn’t. Marijuana is a harmful drug and addictive for 1 in 10 users, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — 1 in 6 for those who begin using before adulthood.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine says long-term marijuana use can have permanent effects on the developing brains of adolescents and young adults — impairing learning, memory and attention. The damage can last even after people stop using it.
And yet Gov. Phil Murphy hasn’t even bothered to get an estimate of how many New Jersey teenagers would likely be harmed by his plan to create a revenue-producing marijuana industry.
Early in the push for marijuana in 2017, we urged the state to go slow on legalization. “Once the experience of the marijuana-experiment states becomes clear and the current robust scientific and medical research delivers its findings, then it might be time to ask New Jersey voters whether they want legal, taxable, commercial marijuana,” we said.
A trio of new studies published recently shows why the Democrats’ rush to embrace marijuana is dangerous to New Jersey residents, especially its young people.
The number of U.S. high school students using marijuana increased tenfold from 1991 to 2017, according to a study published last week in the American Journal of Public Health. Experts think that’s due in part to teenage use of e-cigarettes and because claims of “medical” use of marijuana have made teenagers falsely believe it is safe. In fact, marijuana hasn’t been approved for use as a medicine and has never undergone a controlled trial to demonstrate effectiveness in treating any condition.
This follows a March study published in The Lancet that found daily use of high-potency marijuana increases the risk of developing a psychotic disorder nearly fivefold.
Parents who smoked marijuana in their youth often have no idea how much more powerful the drug is today. In 1980, it typically contained less than 1.5 percent THC, its psychoactive ingredient. Now marijuana often contains 18 to 25 percent THC, and semi-synthetic extracts can be 60 to 90 percent THC. What used to be a mellow effect can now trigger a psychotic break in users.
One of the arguments used to sell the public on legal marijuana, that it might help counter the opioid crisis, has turned out to be false. A 2014 University of Pennsylvania study had suggested that since 1999 state “medical” marijuana programs were associated with fewer opioid overdose deaths. But Stanford University researchers, in results published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found the opposite. When they repeated the prior study and took it through 2017, they found a 23 percent increase in opioid-related deaths in states where “medical” marijuana was legal.
Legislators balked at Murphy’s push to legalize marijuana, but they instead passed what they called “just a back door” to legalization by vastly expanding “medical” marijuana. A bill letting more medical personnel, not just doctors, write prescriptions for up to 3 ounces of marijuana for almost any reason — “If you have an itch, you’re going to get a prescription,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney — is awaiting Murphy’s signature.
A couple of years ago, the state relied on its Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel of physicians, pharmacologists and other health experts to decide which conditions would be appropriate for doctors to consider prescribing marijuana for possible relief. Now anything goes, no expertise or consideration of harms needed or wanted.
There is still time for the state’s leading Democrats to pause their science-defying quest for marijuana revenue. They must examine and openly discuss the estimated damage to New Jersey families and the cost to the state of the marijuana crisis they are creating. The time to put the public’s health above drug industry profits and short-lived state revenue is now.