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Opinion

Relief in California over federal crackdown on medical marijuana

Community leaders from the San Diego area applaud last week's announcement of a widespread federal crackdown on sham medical marijuana dispensaries: 'We’ve heard youths often ask why marijuana is such a big deal when, after all, it is 'medicine'. '

By John Redman, Gabrielle Antolovich, Aaron Byzak, and Staci Anderson / October 14, 2011



San Diego

As leaders of community and parent groups in California, we were greatly relieved last week when four US attorneys announced a widespread crackdown on bogus “medical” marijuana dispensaries in our state. This enforcement could not come at a more urgent time.

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California was the first state to approve a medical marijuana law 15 years ago, and 15 states followed. Now it leads the nation in abuse of that law. In the intervening years, “pot shops” – poorly disguised as “clinics” – have proliferated. “California’s marijuana industry supplies the nation,” US Attorney Benjamin Wagner said last week.

New studies show how dispensaries have sparked marijuana use in communities. In California and elsewhere, their presence has increased drug dealing and use among vulnerable populations, such as underage youth and people with mental health and addiction problems. And young people are getting the wrong message that marijuana is harmless.

Researchers at Columbia University have found that marijuana use is almost twice as high in states with medical marijuana laws compared to states without them. This, according to an article published in an upcoming issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Another recent finding underscores that disturbing message. Among youths aged 12 to 17, marijuana usage rates are higher in states with medicinal marijuana laws, says a study in last month’s Annals of Epidemiology. This is concerning, because marijuana, according to the National Institutes of Health, is linked with dependence, respiratory and mental illness, poor motor performance, and cognitive impairment, among other negative effects. In fact, more kids now go to treatment because of a primary marijuana condition than for any other drug, including alcohol.

But during the time that medical marijuana has gained public acceptance, perceptions about the drug’s dangers have receded among young people.

The 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey revealed the perceived harm for smoking marijuana occasionally or regularly has been decreasing among students in the 8th grade since 2007. These teens feel less social disapproval for using the drug than their peers did four years ago.

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