Introduction: Marijuana, Public Health, and Teens

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The legislative history of the Controlled Substances Act instructs that:

“if a drug creates no danger to the public health, it would be inappropriate to control the drug under this bill.”(1)

As discussed above, teenage marijuana use is an indicator of the effectiveness of public policy and law, not an indicator of the harmfulness or abuse potential of marijuana when used by adults for any reason.

The legislative history notes that

“misuse of a drug in suicides and attempted suicides, as well as injuries resulting from unsupervised use are regarded as indicative of a drug’s potential for abuse.”(2)

As discussed in section 4, the DAWN data indicates that rated for each 100,000 people in our population, marijuana use alone produced less emergency room visits than common household painkillers such as Advil, Tylenol, and aspirin or benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), or lorazepam. (The Controlled Substances Act regulates drugs by classes, so for useful comparisons, DAWN statistics for marijuana should be compared to other classes of drugs.)

As discussed in section 3 and section 4, marijuana is a non-toxic drug. Cannabinoid receptors do not affect the medullary controls of heart and lung activity. It is virtually impossible to commit suicide with marijuana. The use of marijuana in suicide attempts is a futile exercise, and is an indication of ignorance about the substance’s effects more so than an indication of a dangerous abuse potential. Nonetheless, the DAWN statistics are frequently offered as proof that marijuana use equals marijuana abuse. Like their hypothesis about marijuana potency, the DAWN statistics are used by advocates of schedule I status to give the greater significance to the prevalence of marijuana use as an index of abuse. Such claims lack a scientific and medical basis.

Section four above contains comments by the Secretary of Health and Human Services on data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) and critiques the Secretary’s use of the DAWN data. A more concise excerpt of Secretary Shalala’s comments are presented below, and are included to support the assertion that current U.S. government policy is based on the mistaken assumption that marijuana users are like all other drug users, and will “eventually’ end up in the emergency room begging for assistance.

“We must act now to ensure that our young people understand the serious health effects of marijuana and other drugs so they don’t end up like so many of the long-term drug users in the DAWN survey — chronically ill, in need of detoxification, and standing in line in overcrowded hospital emergency rooms.

“This isn’t hyperbole.

“There is a large body of research over the past 20 years that shows that children who use tobacco, alcohol, and particularly marijuana are at increased risk of using other drugs.

“That’s why these increases in marijuana use are of grave concern.

“The more young people know that all drugs — including marijuana — are harmful, the less likely they are to engage in the self-destructive behaviors that we see culminating in the DAWN data.”(3)

This section will support the assertion that the connection between teenage marijuana use and other drug use is social, not pharmacological, and is not an indication that adult marijuana use represents a threat to public health by increasing use of other addictive drugs.