Addiction must remain a topic of focus as South Carolina wrestles with the idea of marijuana legalization.

For many years, a public debate has been held about marijuana and its potential medicinal purposes. In many conversations, we consider satisfying two seemingly opposing opinions: individuals and families seeking marijuana as an option for treatment and law enforcement concerned about public safety and manpower. What has been nearly absent from this conversation is consideration of how this drug relates to substance use disorders, or addiction, and their larger impact on our community.

First, the Center for Disease Control and numerous other organizations have confirmed that marijuana is a dangerous and addicting drug. With its prevalence and now increased potency, it is, in fact, the second most diagnosed chemical dependence in South Carolina (Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services). This is especially concerning when we consider use among young people. According to a study from Johns Hopkins University, if marijuana use starts in adolescence, the chances of the individual developing an addiction are 1 in 6. Additionally, the study includes that marijuana is now the number one reason kids enter treatment – more than alcohol, cocaine, heroin, meth, ecstasy, and other drugs combined. Physical effects include breathing problems and increased heart rates to name a few. For these and other reasons, multiple medical and public health organizations have spoken out against marijuana as medicine including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the Association of Addiction Medicine, the American Glaucoma Society, the American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Neurology, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Allowing marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes makes this drug more available in our community, yet through a very different method of distribution than how prescribed medications are distributed. Marijuana will be made available through dispensaries, which have no requirements to dispense particular measured levels of potency and can even create edible forms of the drug that are most appealing to younger people. Some states attempt to limit dispensaries to selling two ounces to customers every two weeks, yet few understand the significance of this amount. Two ounces of marijuana can produce anywhere from 50 to 120 joints. Divided over fourteen days, this amount can allow approximately three to eight joints each day, which qualifies as very heavy use of this drug.

Increased legalization of this non FDA-approved drug will undoubtedly cause it to become more prevalent not only among people struggling with severe disabilities who want this to be a treatment option, but to the general population. In fact, a major study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence by researchers at Columbia University looked at two separate data sets and found that residents of states with medical marijuana had higher rates of marijuana abuse/dependence among the larger population. It is especially concerning that higher rates of marijuana use among young people were reported in states that allowed marijuana for “medical use” (National Survey on Drug Use and Health). Sadly, the National Survey on Drug and Health also reports that a person who uses marijuana is three times more likely to develop an opioid use disorder.

Allowing marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes will undoubtedly increase rates of substance use disorders, or addiction, in our community. Addiction is a major risk factor for unemployment, criminal activities, marital problems, development delays, suicide, health risks and many other problems that plague our families and communities. It is important that addiction remains as a topic of focus as many communities continue to wrestle with the idea of increased marijuana legalization.

Gayle Aycock

President and CEO of LRADAC

Chip Johnson

Chariman, LRADAC Board of Directors