Marijuana Legalization Is on the Rise: Does That Mean Pot Is Safe?

With Colorado and Washington taking the step to legalize marijuana for medical use, many wonder what this says about marijuana in general. Is it safer and better than we’ve believed? Is it something that we should all be doing? What should the legalization of marijuana mean to the individual? In asking, should marijuana be legalized? Pros and cons exist on both sides. But it is important to recognize that exploring the pros and cons of legalization is not the same as the examining the pros and cons of use. These are two separate issues and should be treated as such. There are many things that are legal, such as cigarette smoking and binge drinking, but that are clearly and unquestionably unhealthy and dangerous. States that have legalized marijuana and their respective proponents will stand behind what are considered to be the benefits of medical marijuana. While less than a handful of states have moved toward legalizing medical marijuana, this should not send the message to those who use pot regularly or occasionally, or to those who have considered using it, that marijuana is harmless. The issue is highly controversial, and now political. And as supporters of legalized marijuana fight for their position, the pros of recreational marijuana use are often overstated. This can make pot seem not only risk-free, but even beneficial. While there may be some dubious benefits of marijuana smoking for patients suffering from chronic and pain-inducing illnesses, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis, it is not without other side effects. Marijuana usage, for example, can also drastically impair the immune system—never a positive thing for those who suffer from serious illnesses and already compromised immune systems. And simply because pot is legal, does not mean pot is safe or even the best option—for sufferers of chronic illness or for the general public. Words like “medical” or “therapeutic” attached to marijuana can send the confusing message to the general population, and especially to minors, that pot can now be categorized among medicines, vitamins and other health-promoting treatments or behaviors. Unfortunately this is not the case. It also cannot be denied that the use of marijuana carries with it high risk for abuse and dependence. Whether it is used for medical reasons or recreational purposes, the effects are still the same: impaired short-term memory and cognitive function, increased risk of anxiety and depression, potential for addiction, etc. Whether legalization is a good thing is a matter for the states, voters and legislators to decide. But it should be realized—by users and nonusers alike—that cannabis legalization pros and cons and the discussion that follows are not the same as cannabis use pros and cons.31

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