CONTACT We need 'health-first' approach to pot - Dr. Christian Thurstone

I’m glad the New York Daily News thought to contact me for tomorrow’s editions. I understand from my wife, a longtime newspaper reporter, what happens to copy when space is tight. However, I also want you to see the full version of what I wrote because the newspaper cut so much. This larger context and these points are important.

When it comes to marijuana policy, we have better choices than status quo or legalization.

Status quo has significant problems. These include racial and ethnic disparities in drug-related punishment, the slow pace of research on the cannabis plant’s potentially therapeutic components and the stigmatization of addiction. The good news is our country doesn’t need to legalize marijuana to address these issues.

Marijuana legalization, whether it’s called medical or recreational, is also fraught with problems. For Colorado, which has about 40 percent of the nation’s documented medical marijuana patients, legalization has coincided with increases in:

  • past-month prevalence of marijuana use among teens, from 7.4 percent to 10.7 percent, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  • the number of drug-related school expulsions. They jumped 40 percent from 2008 to 2010, according to the Colorado Department of Education.
  • the number of traffic fatalities involving a driver under the influence of marijuana. Those doubled from 2006 to 20011, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Only one indicator points to a neutral outcome. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is often misinterpreted and misquoted by marijuana advocates, shows a statistically insignificant change in marijuana use among Colorado high school students from 2009 to 2011. Marijuana advocates claim youth use has dropped along with marijuana legalization, and that simply isn’t true.

Marijuana is addictive and harmful — especially to the developing brain. Our nation can’t afford to promote its use at the big expense of our children and their mental health. We have other options, including:

Legal reform. Let’s end mandatory, minimum sentences related to marijuana.

Faster research. Let’s demand more investigation of the cannabis plant’s potentially therapeutic ingredients and provide access on a compassionate basis to cannabinoid medications that are in the final stages of clinical testing — medications that are not smoked.

We need a health-first approach to marijuana, which is not what we’re getting.

Dr. Christian Thurstone, the guy whose website you’re visiting, is an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Denver and the medical director of an adolescent substance treatment program at Denver Health and Hospital Authority. Learn more about him here.

About Chris Thurstone

Dr. Christian Thurstone is one of only a few dozen physicians in the United States who are board-certified in general, child and adolescent and addictions psychiatry. He is Director of Behavioral Health Services at Denver Health and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado, where he conducts research on youth substance use and addiction and serves as director of medical training for the university’s addiction psychiatry fellowship program. You can read more about him here.

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