Skip to main content

Marijuana legalization is a risk not worth taking

By Stuart Gitlow
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Public perceptions about pot have come a long way, from the dire warnings of "Reefer Madness" to growing acceptance of medical marijuana to the legalization of recreational weed use. Public perceptions about pot have come a long way, from the dire warnings of "Reefer Madness" to growing acceptance of medical marijuana to the legalization of recreational weed use.
HIDE CAPTION
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Stuart Gitlow: More U.S. states are opening the door to legalizing marijuana
  • Gitlow: Research indicates 1 in 6 teens who start using marijuana will become addicted
  • He says with pot, people can also experience long-term psychiatric disease
  • Gitlow: As a society, why would we want to take on such health risks and costs?

Editor's note: Dr. Stuart Gitlow is the president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and chairman of the scientific advisory board of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Back in the 1980s, while attending medical school in New York City, I watched patients remove their oxygen masks so they could smoke cigarettes while in their hospital beds. I watched the chairman of the board of the hospital smoke during board meetings. And I recall people smoking in airline terminals, in their offices, on trains and in restaurants.

Although tobacco smoking rates have dropped significantly in the decades since -- thanks in part to legislation and shifting public sentiment -- there are still many people who seek the "benefit" of being allowed to smoke, the "benefit" of the feeling they get from smoking, no matter the personal risk or the societal cost of their eventual illness and early death. And almost always, they started smoking well before they hit the age at which they could legally buy cigarettes.

Could legalizing marijuana become 'tragedy'?
Reefer Madness
New York legalizes medical marijuana

Many people know one or more people whose lives were cut short by smoking cigarettes. It's a tragedy that could be prevented.

Federal marijuana bill would legalize some cannabis strains

And yet, our country stands ready to once again head down the path of accepting another addictive drug, marijuana, as legal. It is almost as if we have to burn our fingers again to be convinced that the stove is still hot.

As with tobacco, a significant number of people who try marijuana will become addicted. Research says that 1 in 6 teens who start using marijuana will become addicted.

But with marijuana, people can also experience long-term psychiatric disease, and those who use it heavily prior to age 25 are more likely than nonusers to experience a drop in IQ. Let me repeat that for emphasis: If you use marijuana heavily prior to age 25, your brain won't work anymore -- not as it did originally. Will you die young, as with tobacco? We'll have to wait a generation to find out, just as we did with tobacco. Our children will be the guinea pigs.

Why would we as a society choose to do this? If I told you I'm selling a lottery ticket where you have a chance of winning and must accept 1) a benefit that will last a few hours, 2) a permanently malfunctioning brain, 3) lifelong addiction or 4) -- the PowerBall -- psychosis, would you play? The New York Times editorial board think that risk is worth taking, as it promotes legalization of marijuana sales and use. Why would it and other marijuana proponents put the public in harm's way?

As a society, we will not make money -- we will likely lose money, just as we do with tobacco and alcohol. Taxpayers will need to pay more in order to make up for the productivity and illness-related losses that marijuana taxes won't come close to covering.

And since only a small percentage of state prisoners are there for marijuana offenses, how much would we be saving in criminal justice costs? Especially since there are more alcohol-related arrests (e.g. drunkenness, driving under the influence, violation of liquor laws) than all illegal drug arrests combined.

Some would have us believe the benefit of a brief high is worth all the known risks, including the eventual addiction of about 17% of young people who decide to try marijuana. And let's face it, how many people start using marijuana after age 25? Some would have us believe the benefit of a high is worth it despite the driving accidents that have already been shown to be related to marijuana use.

Is a momentary high so important that people are willing to take on such risks? The stakes, in this case, are our children. Let's not turn them into guinea pigs.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2108 GMT (0508 HKT)
The NFL's new Player Conduct Policy was a missed chance to get serious about domestic violence, says Mel Robbins.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the CBO didn't provide an accurate picture of Obamacare's impact, so why rehire its boss?
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 0040 GMT (0840 HKT)
Russian aggression has made it clear Ukraine must rethink its security plans, says Olexander Motsyk, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
The Senate committee report on torture has highlighted partisan divisions on CIA methods, says Will Marshall. Republicans and Democrats are to blame.
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
It would be dishonest to say that 2014 has been a good year for women. But that hasn't stopped some standing out, says Frida Ghitis.
ADVERTISEMENT