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Commentary: Know the truth of medical marijuana

The Chemical Health Initiative of Goodhue County in collaboration with other coalitions and agencies across Minnesota sponsored a professional forum Feb. 13 at the Mall of America to speak about the consequences of legalizing “medicinal” marijuana.

In addition to CHI staff, school staff from Goodhue and Red Wing attended.

Dr. Kevin Sabet brought a wealth of knowledge and experience working directly with Colorado after marijuana was legalized. He is the director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida and an assistant professor in the College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry. He is also the co-founder of Project SAM — Smart Approaches to Marijuana. He is a policy consultant to numerous domestic and international organizations through his company, the Policy Solutions Lab.

Sabet spoke about major myths of passing a medicinal marijuana bill.

Myth 1: Marijuana is harmless and non-addictive

One in six teens who tries marijuana becomes addicted and the adolescent brain is especially susceptible to marijuana use. When kids use, they have a greater chance of addiction since their brains are being primed.

Under the influence of a substance; alcohol quadruples your chance of a car accident and marijuana doubles the chance.

In Colorado, car crash fatalities involving drivers testing positive for marijuana rose by 112 percent. Sabet stated the general public is unaware that marijuana of today compared to the 1960s is more potent.

In the past 15 years, marijuana potency has tripled and since 1960 grown five times stronger. Eighty percent of the marijuana people are using today contains nearly 80 percent of THC. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or Delta-9-THC is the primary psychoactive ingredient; depending on the particular plant, either THC or cannabidiol, known as CBD, is the most abundant cannabinoid in marijuana.

Marijuana is also known as a gateway drug: 75 percent of patients in rehab for cocaine or heroin have been said to have begun with marijuana. Sabet said that according to his emergency room research, physicians have seen panic attacks, hearts racing, mental symptoms, delusions, hallucinations and paranoia associated with marijuana use.

Sabet also noted that marijuana-related ER visits are on the rise. In 1991, visits totaled 16,251. In 2008, they reached 374,000.

The harmful effects to the brain include memory, learning, attention and reaction time. These effects can last up to 28 days after abstinence from the drug. By using the drug; the effects of mental illness can be schizophrenia, psychosis, depression and anxiety.

Myth 2: Smoked or eaten marijuana is medicinal

Sabet said that we do not smoke opium to derive the benefits of morphine. So we do not need to smoke marijuana to receive its potential benefits.

Sabet informed the professional group that there are three answers to the question of whether marijuana is medicine.

If it is smoked or inhaled raw marijuana; than no, it is not medicine. There are marijuana-based pills available and other medications coming soon; so in that form, yes, it would be medicinal marijuana.

It is also important to note that research is ongoing on this subject; so the answer maybe is also valid. Further testing needs to be completed.

Yes, marijuana does have medicinal properties. Studies show that components within marijuana have medicinal value. For instance, dronabinol (also known as Marinol) contains lab-made THC and is widely available at pharmacies as capsules to treat nausea/vomiting from cancer chemotherapy.

Sativex is being studied in the USA. It is administered via an oral mouth spray and is approved in Canada and Europe. It does contain both THC and CBD. Sativex is a cannabinoid medicine for the treatment of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis. This drug is also in development in cancer pain and neuropathic pain of various origins.

Only a small portion of medicinal marijuana users report any serious illness. In Colorado, 2 percent reported cancer, less than 1 percent reported HIV/AIDS, and 1 percent reported glaucoma as their reason for using medicinal marijuana.

Sabet said your average medical marijuana patients are a profile of a 32-year-old white male whom would have a history of alcohol and substance abuse with no life-threatening illnesses. And 87.9 percent of medicinal marijuana users had tried marijuana before the age of 19.

Sabet called medical marijuana a smokescreen to legalize marijuana in our state.

Advocates have pushed their agenda through “medicine by popular vote” rather than the rigorous scientific testing system devised by the Food and Drug Administration. Furthermore, residents of states with medical marijuana laws have been abuse/dependent rates almost twice as high as states with no such laws.

Myth 3: Legality of alcohol and tobacco strengthen the case for marijuana

Legal corporations will keep prices low and consumption high but also tell the public to “enjoy responsibly.”.

Taxes today for alcohol are one-fifth of what they were during the 1950s. Sabet said people ask him in his speaking engagements across the country if legalization will diminish the power of cartels and the black market. Marijuana accounts for 15 to 25 percent of revenues gained from drug trafficking groups. More money is found in human trafficking, kidnapping and other illicit drugs.

The use of marijuana is important for the tobacco industry in terms of an alternative product line. Sabet said we have the land to grow it, the machines to roll it and package it and the distribution to market it. In fact, some firms have registered trademarks taken directly from marijuana street jargon.

Estimates indicate that the market in legalized marijuana might be as high as $10 billion annually.

When the goals of companies behind “Big Marijuana” are to keep consumption high and prices low, one would wonder whom their target audience is.

When referring back to the tobacco industry, Sabet said their words from the beginning were to keep tobacco out of the hands of adolescents and to have the public “use responsibly.”

Sabet said upon digging further, one can find actual documents that show the tobacco industry looking at new concepts for youth cigarettes, which are sweet flavored cigarettes; then publicly noted by the tobacco industry as “We believe that there are pipe tobaccos that have a sweet aromatic taste. It is a well-known fact that teenagers like sweet products.”

If the tobacco industry targeted youths as their mass consumption, why would marijuana, upon legalization, be any different?

A large number of medical marijuana products and “edibles” can be found in dispensaries. Some of the sweets include brownies, carrot cake, cookies, peanut-butter, granola bars and ice cream. Many more sweet treats such as “Ring Pots” and “Pot Tarts” are marketed with cartoons and characters appealing to children.

ER admissions for children under the age of 5 for marijuana-related visits rose 200 percent upon legalization of medicinal marijuana in Colorado, 60 percent for kids ages 6-12, 92 percent for kids ages 13-14. Seventy-four percent of Denver-area teens in treatment said they used somebody else’s medical marijuana on average of 50 times. Some 29 percent of Denver high school students used marijuana in the last month.

If Denver were an American state, it would have the highest public high school current use rates in the country.

Myth 4: Legalization would make it easier to control

Sabet said that the Denver Office of the Auditor concluded that the city “does not have a basic control framework in place for effective governance of the medical marijuana program.”

Sabet also said that the Office of the Auditor said medical marijuana records are incomplete, inaccurate and inaccessible and that many shops are operating without licenses.

Finally, it should be noted Sabet said that in the first week after legalizing “medicinal marijuana”

•a 2-year-old girl was sent to the ER for accidental poisoning due to ingestion of a “pot cookie.”

•a Colorado marijuana store declares that the “high school senior” is his ideal target customer

•the state of Colorado is supposed to be IDing/tagging marijuana plants but they were not ready on Day 1 and sales continued,

•Colorado marijuana is already going to neighbor states as documented by users on

CHI opposes legalization

The Chemical Health Initiative of Goodhue County strongly opposes any efforts to pass “medical” marijuana initiatives or marijuana legalization.

As a community coalition working to prevent youth substance abuse, an essential priority is to reduce teen marijuana use through environmental strategies that decrease access to marijuana and increase perception of harm of the drug. Marijuana is a schedule 1 controlled substance and remains a federally illegal drug; it has not been approved as medicine by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Medicines are determined through rigorous study, research and clinical trial, not through popular vote. Also, medicines are dispensed through the highly regulated pharmaceutical system. Circumventing the existing processes and infrastructure to determine and distribute medicine risks public exposure to fraudulent and/or unsafe medicine.

According to our most recent data, in 2010, 20 percent of Minnesota high school seniors reported smoking marijuana in the past 30 days compared to 21.1 percent of youth nationwide based on the 2010 Monitoring the Future Study. We will continue to compare and monitor our local 2013 data when it becomes available.

“Medical” marijuana and legalization need to be opposed because they will:

•Reduce the perception of harm associated with marijuana use;

•Increase the number of new initiates;

•Increase the number of daily users and those addicted to marijuana; and

•Increase societal health and safety costs related to increased use and abuse

Lawmakers returned to St. Paul in February. Medical marijuana is sure to command the attention of many. Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, introduced the bill in the House, and Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, introduced the companion in the Senate.

The bills carry over to 2014, the second year of the biennium session. Both bills have the maximum number of sponsors allowed: 35 in the House, including 12 committee chairs, and five in the Senate, including two committee chairs.

CHI along with Dr. Kevin Sabet encourage the public to educate themselves on all myths of marijuana and support the CHI in opposing any efforts to pass “medical” marijuana. One important way to do this is to get into contact with your local legislators.

The best way to do that, according to David Schultz, Ph. D. from Hamline University is the following: letters (34 percent), visits (32 percent), email (9 percent), phone calls (7 percent) and fax (5 percent). Research shows that five handwritten letters from constituents are much more effective than mass quantities of email, postcards and faxes.

For more information on opposing the legalization and myths of “medicinal” marijuana, you can go to,,