Let Science, Not Lobbyists, Lead on Medical Marijuana in Georgia

By Jeffrey Zinsmeister and Kevin A. Sabet, Ph.D.

Follow the Marijuana Money

A few members of the Georgia House of Representatives have once again rented a white lab coat, hung a stethoscope around their collective neck, and decided to play doctor based on anecdotes. Although their intentions are sincere, the plural of anecdote is not evidence. The Legislature should slow down and listen to science before making decisions.

A new bill introduced this session would legalize marijuana oil (which can contain up to five percent THC, the ingredient that gets you high) for eight additional conditions. This would raise the total number of conditions to 16. For most of them, per a recently released National Academy of Sciences report, not a shred of evidence exists supporting use of marijuana as a treatment.

The best and most recent research also points to increasing awareness of the harms of marijuana use. Scientists and doctors are learning more and more about the negative effects of today’s high-potency marijuana on the brain. Research has shown that regular use from ages 18 through 38 is associated with an 8 point IQ loss. More youth by far are in drug treatment for marijuana than any other illicit drug or for alcohol. And the evidence linking heavy marijuana use with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia is mounting.

​Unfortunately, “medicine-by-legislative-fiat” is a slippery slope that would take us back to the bad old days of snake oil salesmen. We would, for example, never say opium poppy is medicine even though we derive drugs like morphine from the poppy plant.

Nonetheless, even though raw, “whole-plant” marijuana isn’t medicine, isolated compounds from the marijuana plant have shown medical promise. Cannabidiol (CBD), which unlike THC oils does not get you high, is now being administered in a safe, pure form to hundreds of children nationwide as part of a federal program—including at the Medical College of Georgia. And other isolated compounds from marijuana have passed through rigorous FDA clinical trials and have been on the market for years. The legislature should commend and expand these science-based efforts.

But why are some lawmakers wasting their time on expanding the use of marijuana for so many conditions without the science to back it up? And why are they insisting on promoting a product whose THC content makes it more potent than the marijuana of the 1960s and 1970s? How is more marijuana use going to make Georgia’s kids more competitive in today’s workplace? How does it make Georgia a more attractive place for businesses?

The answer is money. The pot lobby sees these laws as a gateway to full legalization of the drug. Like Big Tobacco before them, pot lobbyists are busy donating money to legislators across the country to pass laws like the ones at issue in Georgia. This same lobby used its leverage to pass a law in Denver last fall permitting restaurants to allow pot smoking sections, and a law in California that expressly permits pot advertising on television. More recently, it has vowed to pass laws preventing businesses from disciplining employees who test positive for marijuana use or testing them altogether. And it has shielded fly-by-night companies making marijuana oils outside of approved federal programs—oils that FDA tests showed were dangerously impure. Big Tobacco, itself interested in the marijuana business since the 1970s, would be proud.

Finally, we shouldn’t confuse legalization with decriminalization of possession of small quantities of marijuana. Supporting fair and proportionate penalties that do not ruin lives, such as drug education, evaluation and possible treatment when needed, does not mean allowing a powerful lobby to market untested and unsafe products as medicine without oversight. We wouldn’t allow any big pharmaceutical company to do this—so why would we let the pot lobby?

We shouldn’t. That would only make a handful of corporate, for-profit marijuana businesspeople, who see Georgia as the gateway to the Southern market, rich. Let’s protect our kids instead and let science lead the way.

​It is urgent that you call or email your state senator today to let them know you do not want Georgia to expand its medical marijuana law. You can find out who your senator is by going to www.openstates.org

Jeffrey Zinsmeister is an Atlanta native, a graduate of The Westminster Schools, and former U.S. diplomat. Kevin A. Sabet, PhD, is a former White House drug policy advisor for three administrations. They are, respectively, Executive Vice President and President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM; http://www.learnaboutsam.org), a non-profit, non-partisan group promoting a science-based marijuana policy.

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