Only by establishing sensible policy can the nation begin to enter into a new chapter with cannabis.
President Biden isn’t sure if marijuana legalization is right for the United States. He’s said before that he thinks pot is a “gateway drug” and he’s worried that providing people with legal access will somehow send the country into a tailspin of debauchery from which it may never recover. After all, America is already at the height of one of the worst drug epidemics in history, so why contribute to it further?
Cannabis advocates say prohibition is part of the problem. They argue that weed is safer than alcohol and that providing adults 21 and over with legal access is the right thing to do. However, a new study finds that, legal or not, regular marijuana users are more likely to go down the wrong path.
Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia found that while cannabis might be mostly safe, people who use it regularly could still end up ruining their lives. The study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, shows that people who start using marijuana in their early years are likely to experience more challenges in life than those who never picked it up.
Overall, researchers found more adverse consequences in people who started smoking weed in their teens and early twenties. Two-thirds of the respondents (out of 1,792 subjects from Victoria, Australia) reported getting into hard drugs, engaging in problematic drinking, experiencing financial hardships, suffering depression, and having less fulfilling relationships — all by their mid-thirties.
“Cannabis users who began regular use in their teens had poorer later life outcomes than non‐using peers,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion. “The larger group who began regular cannabis use after leaving high school accounted for most cannabis‐related harms in adulthood. Given the legalization of cannabis use in an increasing number of jurisdictions, we should increasingly expect harms from cannabis use to lie in those commencing use in young adulthood.”
Previous research has also shown that marijuana use in a person’s younger years can lead to no good. The same goes for alcohol. Federal studies show that roughly 9 percent of those who start drinking at 21 are at a higher risk for developing alcoholism. The possibility of trouble increased for each year before the legal drinking age. Those numbers significantly increased for those who started drinking in their early teens. Nearly half of these people exhibit problematic drinking later in life.
Nevertheless, alcohol is America’s favorite legal drug. The U.S. booze market is worth $1.47 trillion — employing 2.3 million people while contributing $10 billion in federal tax revenue. It also kills roughly 95,000 people every year nationwide. And that’s not just the old raging alcoholics finally drinking themselves to death.
A recent study shows that more young people (under 40) are experiencing alcohol-related liver disease. There’s also a wealth of socioeconomic problems stemming from alcohol use. It, too, can be a gateway drug and contribute to an otherwise miserable existence. Everyone understands the risks, and nobody wants it banned.
Any presumed harms associated with marijuana use is no argument for continued prohibition. It would be wise for the federal government to finally get serious about cannabis research to get past the anecdotal data and establish a collection of hard facts on the positive and negative outcomes of marijuana. But waiting until we understand the pros and cons to change the law shouldn’t be necessary.
Most people will conduct their relationship with marijuana responsibly — the same way they do with alcohol — while others will not. Marijuana use doesn’t guarantee that a person will experience adverse consequences in their lives. Even the U.S. government admits that marijuana isn’t necessarily a gateway drug. If it is, it is no more problematic than alcohol.
What makes marijuana dangerous is continued prohibition. Although many states have legalized in some fashion, law enforcement continues to arrest hundreds of thousands of people every year for minor pot possession. These offenses prevent people from getting jobs, housing and progressing in their lives. A marijuana conviction can forever brand someone as one of the American downtrodden.
Only by establishing sensible policy can the nation begin to enter into a new chapter with cannabis. The Democratic-controlled Congress will attempt to do that in the coming months when it hears legislation designed to reform the national marijuana laws.