The debate over marijuana: Politics and polemics

A debate rages in the United States reminiscent of that which took place in the 1920’s surrounding alcohol. Today it revolves around legalizing marijuana use. In 1932 Franklin Roosevelt responded to public sentiment and ran for president committed to repealing Prohibition. And while pressure to legalize “pot” was not intense in Obama’s first run for the White House his sympathies for legalization were apparent early in his presidency. Issues surrounding legalization of both drugs is similar and I will describe a few similarities deserving consideration in the present rush to legalization.

A recent article described the involvement of several members of Knesset taking part in a rally aimed at pot legalization. The article led with the following odd suggestion of partisanship: “current drug policy turns law-abiding Israelis into ‘criminals.’” If the "law" defines marijuana use a crime, how can a person committing the crime be called "law abiding"?  

And this is beyond the point that the popular drug of abuse is itself a significant health hazard that will, if legalized, dramatically impact individual and public health; the costs to Israel's health care system; and, by extension, the Israeli taxpayer. 

But how can a product “known” to benefit health be a health hazard? As advertised marijuana is God's gift to mankind. At least that’s what smokers claim in treatment after pointing out marijuana’s purported “health benefits” (as a treatment specialist working with drug users these arguments are common, a mantra by persons defending their drug use). Whatever benefits cannabis may have in pill form, an issue itself contested by American Medical Association drug trials, in its most commonly use form, smoking, such so-called benefits are easily disproven. 

Any smoked material is an obvious hazard to the lungs, and marijuana is far more damaging even than tobacco. A selection of a few health hazards as reported in reputable medical journals and US government websites:  

Smoking a single marijuana joint is equivalent to smoking 2.5 to 5 cigarettes in terms of damage to the lungs according to how long the smoke is held in the lungs; 

As reported by the National Institutes of Mental Health, smoking marijuana, regardless of THC content, results in a substantially greater respiratory burden of carbon monoxide and tar than smoking a similar quantity of tobacco; Smoking marijuana clearly damages the human lung. Research shows that smoking marijuana causes chronic bronchitis and marijuana smoke has been shown to injure the cell linings of the large airways. 

Cannabis is involved in approximately 50% of psychosis, schizophrenia, and schizophreniform psychosis cases, numbers that increase when the smoker has a family history of the condition. Younger smokers have an increased risk of developing a psychotic illness later in life. And on the subject of youths, the effects of smoking pot may be even more pronounced in teenage smokers than adults because teens' brains are still developing. 

Other effects of the marijuana experience include: Anxiety, Depression, Increased risk of heart attack, and Suicidal thoughts in teens using the drug. 

Is marijuana an addictive drug? A defining quality of “addictive” is presence of “withdrawal, present in marijuana users.  

I compared the “struggle over marijuana legalization today with that of alcohol in the United States ninety years ago. How has alcohol legalization impacted that country? 

According to a paper by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control Alcohol is responsible for 80,000 deaths in the United States each year, cost the country more than $223 billion (2006) while bringing in just $6 billion (2010). These cost, likely very conservative, involve health care, lost employee productivity, crime, incarceration and drug enforcement. Likely that repeating that mistake with marijuana will have a similar impact on public health, worker productivity, crime, incarceration and drug enforcement. 

Returning to those Knesset members who marched for pot legalization they are possibly as ignorant as the general public, swayed y the propaganda of the “medical marijuana” legislation intended to open the door, as in the US, of general use; or they are just politicians making use of a popular, music-filled extravaganza to promote themselves to the voting public. Either way they do the Israeli public a dangerous disservice. 

And where is the Israeli medical community in educating public opinion of the dangers of the drug?