Commentary: New ASAM Policy Statement on Marijuana Emphasizes Public Health and Safety

    The national discussion on the legal status of marijuana has been a hot-button issue since Colorado became the first state to legalize the recreational use and retail manufacturing and sale of the substance in 2012. Since then, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. have also legalized cannabis use for adults, in addition to the 23 states and Washington, D.C. that have legalized cannabis for non-FDA-approved medicinal uses under state law. In light of these recent societal and political experiments surrounding the regulation of marijuana and with legalization ballot initiatives expected in several states in 2016, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) updated their policy statement on marijuana so that it speaks to the broad public health and safety aspects of such measures.

    ASAM’s new Policy Statement on Marijuana, Cannabinoids and Legalization is the result of a months-long research and writing process that was spearheaded by Drs. Michael Miller, Norm Wetterau and Jeff Wilkins, and overseen by ASAM’s Public Policy Committee. This timely, new statement details the latest research on the health and public health effects of marijuana use, as well as the potential medicinal benefits of particular cannabinoids. It also discusses the political and social attitudes about marijuana that inform the current debate around legalization, and differentiates efforts to decriminalize marijuana use with efforts to legalize marijuana for commercial distribution and sale.

    The policy statement recommends a balanced response to legalization efforts, offering support for decriminalization and access to treatment, as well as detailing several public health and safety measures that should be instituted by jurisdictions that legalize marijuana to protect vulnerable populations. For example, ASAM’s third recommendation states that jurisdictions that have already legalized marijuana or may act to legalize it “prohibit the legal sale of marijuana products to anyone younger than 25 years of age” and “require rotating warning labels to be placed on all marijuana and marijuana products not approved by the U.S. FDA which are offered for sale in retail outlets, stating, ‘marijuana should not be used by pregnant women or persons under age 25.’” It also includes recommendations to encourage basic and health services research on marijuana and marijuana use, while reaffirming ASAM’s support of our current research-based pharmaceutical development, approval and regulatory process.

    As more and more states move to legalize marijuana and other cannabis products for either medicinal or adult recreational use, and as Congress considers bills intended to facilitate research into the potential therapeutic effects of marijuana, ASAM hopes that this set of recommendations will be considered by both state legislatures or ballot initiatives when drafting marijuana legalization bills, as well as state agencies charged with regulating their legal marijuana market.

    “Access to quality addiction treatment has always been at the center of ASAM’s mission,” said Dr. Michael Miller. “We hope that states who decide to make an addictive substance legal will take the necessary measures to ensure that those who need treatment for marijuana use disorder or any other substance use disorder are able to receive it.”

    Brad Bachman, Advocacy, Policy and Payer Relations Coordinator at the American Society of Addiction Medicine

    By Brad Bachman
    October 2015

    Published

    October 2015

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