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Editorial: Move carefully with medical marijuana

Minnesota’s new medical marijuana law is intentionally and appropriately narrow. Those who truly need the beneficial compounds in cannabis will be able to get it, not by smoking but by ingesting pills or liquid, just like other medications. The law is written tightly enough to discourage the abuse and problems seen in other states, especially those that have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Still, there will be those who’ll treat Minnesota’s new and narrow law as but a small step toward more open laws and eventual full legalization. May they move carefully — or not at all.

That’s because “disquieting new trends and statistics are proving (marijuana’s) unique dangers for those most vulnerable to its effects: children,” Dr. David Sack, an expert in addiction psychiatry, especially among adolescents and young adults, wrote in a commentary published last week by the Los Angeles Times.

“One such statistic is a spike in calls to poison control centers,” Sack said. “According to the National Poison Data System, calls about accidental ingestion of marijuana in children 9 and younger more than tripled in states that decriminalized marijuana before 2005. In states that enacted legalization from 2005 to 2011, calls increased nearly 11.5 percent per year.”

Part of the problem is that in states where the recreational use of marijuana is legal, marijuana-infused gummi candies, hard candies and fudge are sold and then accidentally eaten at home by children. Plus, as Sack pointed out, today’s pot is a far cry from the pot of the 1960s- and 1970s-era hippie days. Today’s pot can be up to three times as potent.

“A University of Colorado study blamed the proliferation of these drug-laced edibles, combined with relaxed marijuana laws, for a surge in emergency room visits by children,” Sack wrote. “Increased legalization also means easier access for adolescents. In a study of Colorado teens in substance-abuse treatment centers, for example, 74 percent said they had gotten marijuana from someone who qualified for it medically.”

That’s what legalizing medical marijuana can lead to, though it’s unlikely under Minnesota’s currently stringent law, which was championed by Iron Range lawmaker Carly Melin. She listened and was willing to change her legislation based on concerns such as these from law enforcement and others.

Still, “Legalization may … be encouraging more kids to consider trying marijuana,” Sack wrote. “In a recent study of thousands of high school seniors, 10 percent of nonusers said they would try marijuana if the drug were legal in their state. This included large subgroups of students normally at low risk, including non-cigarette smokers, those with strong religious affiliations and those with friends who disapprove of drugs. And of the students already using marijuana? Eighteen percent said they would use more under legalization.

“Whatever is intended by legalization, children seem to be hearing this: Marijuana is no big deal.”

But it is.

“We give children one overriding task: to learn. Introducing a substance that slows reaction time, distorts judgment and interferes with memory short-circuits that task,” he wrote. “In addition, the younger kids are when they try marijuana, the more likely they are to become addicted (yes, marijuana can be addictive) and the more likely they are to go on to use other drugs.”

Nonetheless, almost certainly there will be a push this coming legislative session, if not sooner, to loosen up Minnesota’s rightly tight medical marijuana law. There’ll be pressure. And here’s hoping that when they feel it lawmakers keep in mind the many good reasons to move slowly and carefully — or, perhaps better yet, not at all.

— Duluth News Tribune