By Dick Dimond
The voters of Southwest Harbor are being asked if they wish to adopt an ordinance permitting commercial recreational use of marijuana by individuals over the age of 21. To date, no town in Hancock County has voted to permit such activities, and Southwest Harbor should not become the only town in Hancock County to do so.
Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults in 2012. It is instructional, therefore, to look at Colorado’s experience since then. Stated most simply, 64 perent of Colorado’s jurisdictions have banned recreational marijuana.
Marijuana impairs judgment, motor coordination and reaction time significantly, and driving under its influence doubles or triples the risk of motor vehicle accidents, including fatalities. Marijuana may also cause depression and suicidal thinking, especially in youngsters, and was associated with a sixfold increase in suicide among 10- to 19–year–olds in Colorado.
There were 21,769 emergency department visits and 16,614 hospitalizations in Colorado due to marijuana in 2017. Furthermore, 55 percent of the marijuana-related exposures reported by the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in 2018 occurred in youth under the age of 18.
The marijuana industry has relied heavily on a 2014 study that correlated a decrease in opioid-related deaths with medical marijuana legalization. However, The National Academy of Sciences found just the opposite and reported a 23 percent increase in opioid deaths when more data were analyzed through 2017.
The Academy also documented a clear association between use of marijuana and development of substance use dependence and/or a substance use disorder involving alcohol and/or illicit drugs. In fact, between 2010 and 2017, opioid overdose fatalities in Colorado doubled. Furthermore, opioid overdose fatalities due to heroin during the same period increased four-fold.
In a follow-up study of nearly 35,000 marijuana users, the National Institute of Drug Abuse reported that marijuana users were more than twice as likely as nonusers to misuse prescription opioids and develop prescription-related opioid use disorder. Additionally, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that marijuana users were three times more likely than nonusers to become addicted to heroin.
Turning now to children, our most precious resource, we should shield them from harm, not expose them to it. Marijuana is particularly harmful to developing brains and affects the structure and development of the adolescent brain. Nearly one in five individuals who begin to use marijuana during adolescence become addicted to it. In addition, marijuana has become the most commonly used illicit substance used by
pregnant women, affecting the fetus’s brain and resulting in lower birth weight, which
often is a marker for long-term disability.
Today’s marijuana is much more potent than in the past, can trigger acute psychotic episodes, especially in adolescents, and is one of the main causes for emergency department visits and hospitalizations associated with marijuana use.
Marijuana directly affects parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning, attention and reaction time. However, parts of the adolescent brain that regulate planning for complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision-making and social behavior are not developed fully until the early or mid-20s.
Clearly, the adolescent brain is especially susceptible to the harmful effects of marijuana. Consequently, increased marijuana potency and frequency of use are associated with acute psychosis, depression, anxiety, suicidal thinking, reshaping of the brain structurally and addiction. In fact, marijuana use may increase the risk of developing acute psychosis fivefold.
In view of the dangers summarized herein, Southwest Harbor should not opt in to adult recreational use of marijuana, and the Town should not adopt a marijuana ordinance at this time.
Dick Dimond is a retired physician from Southwest Harbor and a board member of the Acadia Family Center.