State officials have to produce a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 by the end of this month, and there are signs their desperation for marijuana revenue might lead them to take hasty and unreasonable risks with public health in New Jersey.
Last week, Democrats introduced a bill in the state Senate to legalize the use of marijuana for pleasure. Leading sponsor Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, reportedly is working to tie its passage to expansion of medical marijuana and rush both bills through the Legislature in three weeks.
This is a terrible idea for the very reason Democratic leaders wish to do it — to use the widespread support and basis for medical use of marijuana to obscure the dangers and uncertainties of full legalization and massive use of the drug.
If the two are tied together, they shouldn’t be approved.
Medical marijuana already is approved for pain or anxiety, so it isn’t difficult for doctors to prescribe it. Medical marijuana will only get more effective with proper research — identifying which cannabinoids are effective for each condition, optimizing treatments through lab tests and clinical trials, and eventually getting FDA approval for their medical use.
The expansion bill would add more qualifying conditions and let marijuana prescriptions be written by physician assistants and others authorized to prescribe controlled dangerous substances. That’s fine, but there is no hurry to do that, and it shouldn’t be done as a cover for creating a marijuana industry that puts New Jersey residents at risk.
Despite widespread popular support for legalization of pot — about two-thirds of Americans in a recent Quinnipiac poll — scientific understanding of its effects is preliminary and some of it is worrisome.
A recent essay by a neuroscientist and professor at Bucknell University, Judith Grisel, said marijuana takes normal brain chemical activity that helps prioritize thoughts, emotions and experiences and turns it into a flood that makes everything special. Highlighting everything not only conveys nothing, it also prompts the brain to dampen its own essential selective process to compensate for the excessive stimulation.
This may be part of the reason why heavy-using teens are 60 percent less likely to graduate from high school and seven times more likely to attempt suicide, she said.
Data from states early to legalize marijuana already show an alarming increase in traffic accidents and marijuana use among highway fatalities.
Legislators may think that creating a marijuana bureaucracy with massive profits for a few insiders and big tax revenues for the state is a more acceptable way of increasing the total tax load on New Jersey residents, but it’s not.
Early research suggests it would just add health and social problems for communities and individuals to the downside of taking more of New Jersey residents’ money. Far better to reduce spending to balance the state budget — or failing that, just raise some existing tax without possibly creating the state’s next major drug problem.