Representatives from public health and law enforcement groups gathered at the Virginia General Assembly Building in Richmond to host a press conference urging lawmakers to oppose the passage of any legislation legalizing and commercializing recreational marijuana in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“Marijuana legalization efforts and the rhetoric surrounding them send a dangerous message to the youth of Virginia and elsewhere,” said Dr. Mary Crozier, Immediate Past Chair of Community Coalitions of Virginia (CCoVA). “Lawmakers should be aware that talks of legalization tell our young people that the use of marijuana is harmless. Instead of rushing into trumpeting the claims of the marijuana industry, our policymakers should take a long, hard look at the harms apparent in other states.”
The overwhelming majority of research on lower potency pot shows that marijuana use affects memory, learning, can lead to a loss of IQ points and even has been linked to severe mental illness issues such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. On the mental health front, recent research has found daily use of high-potency marijuana is associated with a fivefold increase in instances of psychosis. Further, a recent study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that rates of marijuana addiction among teens in states that have legalized the drug were 25% higher than in states that have not.
“Marijuana legalization is especially damaging to communities of color as the commercial industry uses the same playbook as Big Tobacco, alcohol companies, and the lottery,” said Will Jones, Community Outreach and Communications Associate for Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). “Releasing an addiction-for-profit marijuana industry on disadvantaged communities of color and low income is indeed a social injustice, not social justice.”
In Los Angeles, the majority of marijuana dispensaries are located in predominantly African American communities. The same is true in Denver, where there are more dispensaries than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. What’s more the industry’s grand promises of social equity consistency fail to materialize as less than two percent of the marijuana industry nationwide features minority ownership or investors.
“Even though some states may move to “legalize” marijuana, we cannot forget that the drug is still illegal at the federal level,” said Dana Schad, Executive Director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. “Virginia is still dealing with a raging opioid crisis, and we are not ready to deal with the unique harms marijuana presents to young people, not to mention the issues with impaired driving and increased black market activity legalization will bring.”