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Believe it or Not

Believe it or Not

Just when I thought I had heard it all . . .


Earlier this summer, California’s Coalinga City Council voted to sell the city’s dormant prison to a company looking to cultivate commercial marijuana within city limits.


This was a $4.1 million sale; cha-ching! In one foul swoop, the city was out of debt. Claremont Custody Center is now owned by Ocean Grown Extracts which will transform the former prison into a medical cannabis oil extraction facility.


Surely, this is not what is meant by advocates of criminal justice reform!


Chances are that the State of California will vote this November to legalize possession of marijuana for recreational use, thus joining Colorado, Washington, and Oregon.        
Many feel legalization is inevitable and has been since more and more states voted first to decriminalize and then allow medical marijuana. And, regardless of mounting new research that points to the dangers of today’s far more potent marijuana and the increasing public health concerns voiced by frontline clinicians, let’s face it—there’s just too much money on the line.


One particular study by the Rand Corporation should give us pause. The study found that while use of both marijuana and alcohol in middle and high school increased the likelihood of poor academic performance and mental health issues at the high school level, marijuana use was associated with greater problems in more areas of functioning than alcohol use, including mental health and delinquency (D’Amico, Tucker, Miles, Ewing, Shih, & Pedersen, 2016). 


The Rand study points out that many youth tend to think that alcohol use has more consequences than marijuana use and therefore view marijuana use as safer than drinking. However, the study concludes, youth need to better understand the harms of marijuana use, such as the potential effect on their developing brain and how it can affect performance in both adolescence and adulthood (D’Amico et al., 2016).


Californians would do well to monitor closely the experience of Colorado and Washington who voted to legalize marijuana is 2012. 


In an “Open Letter to Anyone Who Will Listen,” Ben Cort, director of professional relations at the Center for Addiction Recovery and Rehabilitation (CeDAR) in Colorado and a board member of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, is making waves from coast-to-coast with a bucketful of information that leads to only one conclusion: “The grass isn’t greener on this side.” 


The federal government, Cort says, initially announced it would take a hands-off approach, promising to track nine consequences of legalization and determine action later. So far, Cort adds, no effective or robust public tracking system by federal or state authorities has been implemented and, in Colorado and Washington especially, some fret that “Big Marijuana” has been allowed to run wild. 


Cort predicts that as we see the next generation grow up in a place where pervasive THC use is accepted, and even encouraged, we will see the harmful effects of marijuana on the brain and body play out much faster because they will be using much stronger stuff, more often, and at earlier ages.


Cort sounds the alarm on the Colorado “experiment” which he insists “is not going to end well,” and counsels us all to “Learn from the mistakes made and let the damage done in my home state be a warning to yours.”


One thing is for sure; increased consumption of the “new marijuana” by young people will result in more and more health consequences and the treatment field will be challenged to respond.


The biggest single concern has got to be marijuana use by adolescents. Previously, we did not appreciate the long-term effects of marijuana on the brain. 


Fortunately, with the California vote around the corner, the leadership of California’s Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals, understands this all too well. CCAPP is calling for legislators in the state to include significant dollars earmarked for all addiction treatment, not just marijuana, as they debate legalization. Unlike Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, CCAPP is asking legislators to set aside 45 percent of tax revenue for treatment.


Sounds like a good place to start.





D’Amico, E. J., Tucker, J. S., Miles, J. N. V., Ewing, B., Shih, R. A., & Pedersen, E. R. (2016). Alcohol and marijuana use trajectories in a diverse longitudinal sample of adolescents: Examining use patterns from age eleven to seventeen years. Addiction, doi:10.1111/add.13442.