The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Marijuana harms are real, but they often are overstated

Marijuana plants growing inside the Clinic grow facility in Denver in February 2020. (Matthew Staver for The Washington Post)

Leana S. Wen’s Oct. 12 op-ed, “There are real dangers from marijuana,” misrepresented data and the effects of cannabis on youths. To be clear, the push for decriminalization and regulating cannabis means curbing the illicit market, mandating dispensaries to check identification and working with law enforcement officials to keep our communities safe. According to the author, the narrative regarding decriminalization is that marijuana is harmless. But this is blatantly untrue. Cannabis activists, advocates and policy professionals know there are harms associated with cannabis, hence the call for necessary federal guidelines to protect children.

The assumption that youth use will rise after cannabis legalization is not rooted in fact. Recent audits of the regulated cannabis industry show near perfect compliance without an increase in cannabis use among youths. The same doctor cited by Dr. Wen, Nora Volkow, made clear before the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee that evidence does not support Dr. Wen’s argument that reforming cannabis laws leads to increased underage consumption. “Specifically in the United States, legalization by some states of marijuana has not been associated with an increase in adolescents’ marijuana use,” Dr. Volkow said.

Other regulated products, such as alcohol and tobacco, even pre-pandemic, are seeing their lowest underage usage rates in decades, proving that we can significantly reduce youth consumption. The regulated tobacco and alcohol markets are a good starting point for the cannabis industry.

Andrew Freedman, Washington

The writer is executive director of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation.