Opponents of efforts to legalize marijuana in Missouri said states that have done so have seen spikes in crime, heightened risks of drug addiction and harmful effects on children.
“Legalization of marijuana for recreational or even so-called ‘medicinal’ uses makes communities less safe, and Missouri should not head down that dangerous path,” Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
Several bills and initiative petitions are pending in the General Assembly or competing to appear on the November ballot as constitutional amendments. One initiative would legalize recreational marijuana; another would permit medical marijuana.
Zahnd is part of a coalition called Keeping Missouri Kids Safe, which strongly opposes efforts to legalize marijuana, even for medical use. Members say that medical marijuana is not backed by science and should undergo the same rigorous FDA approval process as other drugs containing THC and CBD, two of the active chemical compounds found in marijuana.
Marijuana’s classification under the federal Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I drug “implies that it has a fairly high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in the United States and lacks accepted safety for use under supervision by a physician,” Jennifer Lowry, chief toxicologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital, said at the news conference, which was held in the building housing Tri-County Mental Health Services in the Northland. “That’s what that means.”
Lowry said studies have shown that potential negative consequences of short- and long-term recreational use of marijuana among adolescents “include impaired short-term memory, decreased concentration, attention span and problem problem solving, which clearly interfere with learning.”
Zahnd said that since medical marijuana became legal in Colorado, Denver has seen a 12 percent increase in crime, a 74 percent spike in homicides in 2015 and a rise in drug-related traffic fatalities.
“Those of us who fight crime every day know that legalizing marijuana will make our communities more dangerous, so I sincerely hope that Missouri will not legalize a drug when we know that doing so has been a disaster in other states,” he said.
It’s not clear, however, how much the rise in Denver’s crime rate is related to marijuana usage. Although crime in Denver has gone up since Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, the Denver Post, citing statistics gathered by city safety officials, reported recently that marijuana’s contribution to the crime rate was small.
Another study that looked at crime in Colorado since its first retail marijuana stores opened on Jan. 1, 2014, found a decrease in crime rates. The Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for the reform of punitive drug laws, says violent crime and property crime in Denver have actually fallen since 2014.
The Journal of the American Medical Association, in a January 2015 article on “The Implications of Marijuana Legalization in Colorado,” concluded that the issue needed more study.
“While many users feel they have benefited from marijuana legalization in Colorado, there have also been untoward adverse health effects,” the article stated. “The risks of use must be consistently communicated through health care practitioners and public health officials, especially for edible products that pose unique risks for exposed adults and children. Ultimately, additional research is needed to quantify the benefits and risks of marijuana utilization so health care professionals can have well-informed discussions with medical and recreational users.”
Colorado is one of four states – Alaska, Oregon and Washington are the others – that have legalized recreational marijuana use. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia permit some form of medical marijuana use.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Eric Zahnd's name.
Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.