2013-02-16 / Viewpoints

MARIJUANA & SCIENCE

By Douglas D. Marlowe

(Dr. Douglas D. Marlowe is a senior scientist at the Treatment Research Institute and an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He is also a lawyer and clinical psychologist.

Dr. Marlowe is an expert on the treatment of psychoactive substance use disorders and on topics of crime and substance abuse.)

Every dangerous and addictive drug was once believed to be safe and medicinal.

Cocaine, heroin and nicotine were once advertised as being good for you, or at least not harmful. In every instance, we learned otherwise -- the hard way.

Marijuana is the newest “safe” and “medicinal” drug to re-enact this tragic drama. Just as scientific research is documenting the unequivocal public-health and public-safety dangers of marijuana, states are moving rapidly towards legalization or decriminalization.

Drug courts serve seriously addicted individuals with long criminal records who have alienated nearly everyone they love.

In every case, they tell us it began with marijuana. Convinced that marijuana was safe, they learned it is, in fact, addictive, causes serious cardiovascular and respiratory disease, triggers mental illness and addiction to more serious drugs, and alienates friends, family and coworkers.

The National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) has long been committed to guiding the drug court field and the broader criminal justice and treatment communities with science, not ideology. After thoroughly reviewing the research regarding the safety of recreational marijuana use and the efficacy of “medical” marijuana, NADCP unequivocally stands against the legalization of marijuana and the use of smoked marijuana as “medicine.”

Our reasons for doing so are thoroughly explained and cited a position statement that can be found on the website, nadcp.org (click on “Learn” tab).

Unfortunately, the public discourse concerning drug policy in the U.S. has degenerated into a false-choice between incarceration and legalization. Both of these extreme positions are dangerous, costly and ineffective.

But research proves there is a middle ground. It is possible to reduce the devastating consequences of addiction and treat those already affected without overreacting and wasting public tax dollars.

Pick up any current issue of a scientific journal in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, counseling or criminology, and you will find studies documenting a new danger of marijuana. But that same journal will also contain studies documenting the curative effects of drug courts and dozens of other treatment programs.

We can and must do better. Science, not ideology, must be our guide to rational and informed public policy.

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