It’s been five years since California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 64: The Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Not everything has gone according to plan.
For one thing, retail sales were supposed to generate hundreds of millions in taxes; some of which could be used for behavioral health treatment (every project sold includes a 40% tax). We also expected a high number of jobs to be created within the “canna-biz” industry. Unfortunately, tax revenues and new jobs have fallen far short of expectations due to difficulties with dispensary licensing. One unintended consequence is the flourishing illegal sale of (untaxed) pot in California.
Another expectation with the legalization of marijuana was the civic obligation to adjust cultural standards, social values, and beliefs in order to identify and discourage harmful use. Unfortunately, California still has no systems, processes, and collective wisdom for how cannabis can be used in a legal and responsible way. Like cannabis, alcohol is a drug, but almost 70% of American adults believe alcohol is more harmful to health than marijuana. Let’s look at that.
First, the similarities. Both alcohol and weed have addiction potential. It’s possible to develop an emotional and/or physical dependence to both substances. In fact, the current data suggests that 30% of people who use weed may have some degree of “marijuana use disorder.” And while being intoxicated with weed feels different than being intoxicated with alcohol, the two have roughly the same effect on our cognitive abilities, reflexes, and judgment.
Now the differences. Science knows much more about alcohol than it does about weed — there’s a lack of large, long-term studies on the effects of marijuana. Weed may appear to be safer than alcohol simply because we aren’t yet aware of all the risks. Yes, it’s true that high-intensity drinking can be deadly and very few people overdose on cannabis products. Plus, alcohol abuse can also cause serious health complications, including problems for the heart, liver, pancreas, and nervous system. For cannabis, one thing we do know is that vaping puts teens at a greater risk for developing symptoms of lung injury than just smoking cigarettes or marijuana. New findings show that adolescents who vape marijuana were about twice as likely to report wheezing or whistling in the chest than those who used e-cigarettes or smoked.
Before we judge pot as consequence-free, we still have a lot to learn.
Find out how: Marijuana Affects the Young Brain.