On Wednesday, December 11, 2019, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring will host a “cannabis summit” featuring panels of experts on recreational marijuana legalization. Next year, the Virginia Legislature is anticipating legislation to remove criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession, but not legalize marijuana for commercial sale. According to AG Herring’s office, medical, substance abuse, and public health and safety experts will not be able to discuss the public health ramifications of marijuana legalization due to “time constraints.”
“Any attempt to liberalize marijuana policy that excludes the expert opinion of doctors and substance abuse and prevention professionals should raise alarms across the board,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and a former three-time White House drug policy advisor. “Hosting a marijuana legalization summit with Big Marijuana insiders who are dedicated to the expansion of the marijuana industry is a bait and switch as the original topic was to be social justice and decriminalization. Given the numerous public health harms currently emanating from marijuana commercialization, the Attorney General is leaping ahead and burying the science.”
A public health crisis involving marijuana vaping is currently facing the nation. More than 2,200 individuals have fallen ill with a debilitating lung illness known as EVALI and some 48 have died. The overwhelming majority of these cases have been tied to the use of marijuana vaping products. Despite concerted efforts by the marijuana industry to lay the blame on the illicit underground market, numerous cases of EVALI and at least three deaths have been tied to the use of “legal” products.
Furthermore, according to a 2017 review of data by the National Academies of Science, we know marijuana use affects memory, learning, can lead to a loss of IQ points, and has even been linked to severe mental illness issues such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
“The health and wellbeing of Virginia’s youth must be the top priority in this debate and AG Herring’s summit made clear they are not the focus,” said Mary Crozier, Immediate Past Chair of Community Coalitions of Virginia (CCoVA), a Virginia coalition focused on strengthening education and advocacy efforts to reduce substance abuse and related risk factors in Virginia communities. “Our policymakers must recognize the threats commercial marijuana presents to youth and abandon attempts to expand it to the Commonwealth.”
“Looking the other way when it comes to the very real negative impacts of marijuana legalization is a recipe for tragedies like drugged driving fatalities and kids accidentally ingesting high potency gummies,” continued Dr. Sabet. “Moving forward, we will fight for public health and safety organizations to have their voices heard in this debate. Health and safety harms from marijuana promotion aren’t going away, and neither are we.”