October 20, 2021

Arguing That Greater Availability of Cannabis Will Come with Significant Costs

To the Editor:

I’ve followed with interest some of the meetings of the Cannabis Task Force and some of the letters to the editor in Town Topics about bringing cannabis dispensaries to town. I’ve heard and seen a lot of arguments promoting, if not celebrating, this while downplaying the negative impact of recreational cannabis on young people and the community. Although I disagree with those promoting this overall perspective, I do believe they are sincere in their intentions, as am I. In today’s hyper-partisan environment, too often we impugn the motives of those who disagree with us.

That being said, I think these overly sanguine perspectives often gloss over the main issue going forward which is that with greater availability will come significant costs and, most especially, unintended consequences. Let’s not delude ourselves. With greater acceptance and widespread distribution over time, there will be more and more underage consumption (and habitual use) in the same way that underage drinking is so high, despite the enacted laws and our best-intentioned educational efforts over the years (I wouldn’t be surprised if official survey data underreports these levels of usage amongst teens with both cannabis and alcohol).

Research has clearly delineated the substantial adverse effects of cannabis upon the developing teenage and young adult brain. And, of course, this not only affects the teenagers themselves but also their extended families and friends. In my own family, my brother had to stage an intervention in order to get my nephew to attend a residential program for one full year in order to overcome his dependency on cannabis. He’s doing a lot better now, but, needless to say, this caused so much heartache and pain for my nephew and those who love him. As a result of increased distribution and availability, it’s likely that more and more families will be faced with this. And yes, there will be other unintended consequences relating to those adults who are at-risk and more prone to addictions, etc. CNN recently reported that a condition called cannabis hyperemesis syndrome is “on the rise in the United States, especially in states that have legalized marijuana,” where “habitual users of cannabis, including teenagers, are showing up in emergency rooms complaining of severe intestinal distress,” including vomiting that can last for hours on end.

For these reasons, this is hardly something to celebrate or to rationalize away. I’m afraid that we may be in for a rather rough ride, whether the effects are more immediate, or 10-20 years down the road as cannabis becomes more widely distributed and accepted (like alcohol). I think overall we need a better strategy. Instead of providing more opportunities for people to get hooked on artificial recreational highs, we, as a society, should be putting our collective (liberal, conservative, and independent) heads and hearts together to figure out how to help people, young and old, come off of drugs and experience the real joys of clean and healthy living — that would truly be something for our community to strive for, be proud of, and celebrate!

Jeffrey Kingsley
Jonathan Dayton Court