As Massachusetts begins legal pot sales, it’s worth looking at what happens next

(The following article was originally published in East Haddam News.)

By Toni McCabe

In a matter of weeks, shops in Massachusetts will be legally selling marijuana. As our neighbor to the north begins selling recreational pot, it’s worth considering how this may affect their (and our) state. We can look to the examples of Colorado, Washington, and other states to see what may happen after legalization.

According to Kevin Sabet, of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), in states that have liberalized marijuana laws “drugged driving deaths have increased, emergency room visits have risen, and more young people are using marijuana.” In a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers found that ER visits by teenagers in Colorado more than quadrupled after legalization. These hospitalizations were largely related to mental health symptoms. According to SAM, the “percentage of traffic deaths related to marijuana more than doubled in Washington State the year retail marijuana sales were allowed.” In Colorado, emergency poison control calls for children aged 0 to 8 more than tripled. In Colorado elementary and high schools, marijuana-related offenses have increased 34% since legalization. Sabet further notes that “Last month, the National Institutes of Health released a study finding that 1 in 4 12th-graders reported that they would try marijuana for the first time, or use it more often, if marijuana were legalized.”

It’s worth considering what effect early use has on teens. Heavy teenage marijuana use correlates with an 8-point drop in IQ. This loss is not reversed when marijuana use stops. Unsurprisingly, it’s also correlated with lower grades, exam scores, and lower life satisfaction. Adolescent users are less likely to graduate high school, enroll in college, and are likely to earn less than their non-using peers. If 1 in 4 12th graders would be more likely to use or use more due to legalization, a quarter of our youth might be left dealing with these consequences.

As legalization is fully implemented in Massachusetts, we should think critically about the costs associated with marijuana. While some view marijuana as a safe, fun plant with few downsides, the Local Prevention Council wants to provide the other side of the story.