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Commentary: Marijuana legalization remains relevant

With Oregon and Alaska joining Washington and Colorado as states legalizing use and sale of marijuana, what I wrote at the beginning of the year seems to remain relevant.  Marijuana legalization continues its march and will likely claim California, and perhaps a handful of other states, in 2016. 

For those of us not in the actual trenches of this fight, it’s important to remain objective and have in mind practical solutions to public and campus health concerns.  For instance, as commercialization of marijuana takes hold, an expected outcome will be more processed products. In fact we’re seeing this already within the medical marijuana market. The actual plant has profit potential, but eatables and concentrates allow for businesses to market products not as easily reproduced.  However eatables are turning out to have a risk profile that should be raising alarm bells that prompt much stricter regulation. 

Eatables often contain extremely high doses of THC and their slow absorption mean effects can last for 8-16 hours.  Further, their onset is delayed by as much as an hour.  Therefore, the likelihood of someone engaging in behaviors that pose risk (such as driving) while impaired is much higher.  We are also seeing that accidental ingestion of eatables is a serious hazard for children.  Obvious solutions would be to either ban the sale of these, or substantially limit the THC dose permitted (with concomitant childproof packaging and labeling).  Further, on-premise service of eatables should be prohibited because it is impossible to serve a future driver one of these without creating an impaired driver for the public to contend with.

But knowing the risks and even some regulatory concerns may not be enough to change the course of this legalization march.  We continue to see the process played out on the initiative ballots instead of within the legislatures.  Therefore, widely disparate state laws are emerging due to activists’ whims and their cool calculus of what they believe to be minimally restrictive yet publicly palatable laws.  It’s a shame because given the blank slate that commercially regulated marijuana starts with, public health could have taken center stage if we were at the table.

So this means… From today’s perspective it appears marijuana will be a legal and regulated product for those over 21 in many more states (including California) by the end of 2016.  Further, the pressure on the Federal government to de-schedule marijuana will only increase.  Colleges and universities will likely be permitted to ban use on campus, however with likely de-scheduling, California schools may be required to accommodate constitutionally protected medical use even by those who are under 21 and within the residential buildings.