Experts Weigh In on Marijuana Legalization

April 26, 2018 07:29 PM

Health experts at Hazelden think it's time to have a chat about recreational marijuana.

Not whether it's good or bad, per se.


But about the wide-ranging impact it could have on Minnesota and other states where the drug has become a hot topic of conversation.

RELATED: 3 West Central Minnesota Stops Yield Around 524 Pounds of Marijuana, State Patrol Says

That was the purpose behind a symposium at Hazelden's Plymouth campus Thursday, which focused on the facts and science surrounding the drug.

"I urge you to pump the breaks and go slow," Smart Approaches to Marijuana chief of staff Luke Niforatos told the crowd.

Niforatos, one of four national experts invited to speak at the event, called the marijuana industry "Big Tobacco 2.0" and urged caution, saying legalizing recreational marijuana has had unintended consequences in his home state of Colorado.

He said those consequences have included an increase in drugged driving, a thriving black market and a rise in marijuana use among youth.

RELATED: Study says Medical Marijuana has Measurably Reduced Serious Pain among Minnesota Patients

Niforatos added he believes it's a false dichotomy to say you either legalize pot or put people in jail. He instead favors a middle ground - along the lines of decriminalizing marijuana without commercializing it.

"Now is not the time to commercialize and expand marijuana use," Niforatos explained. "Now is the time to study, research and further understand what's going on."

That runs counter to some of the more heavily-touted marijuana success stories.

For instance, in June, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson praised the state's decision to legalize the drug, saying it has led to more than $250 million in tax revenue that has gone to schools, police and local governments.

RELATED: State Panel Considers Expanding Conditions Eligible for Medical Marijuana

"We think this is an important public health issue," Hazelden Youth Continuum Medical Director Dr. Joseph Lee said Thursday.

Lee said the aim isn't to stigmatize the issue. But he said there are concerns that a significant minority of Minnesotans will be affected more adversely by recreational marijuana than others.

"We want to shift the dialogue away from drugs, which we find to be a very polarizing discussion, and we want to make the dialogue about people," Lee said. "Investing in people and understanding that not everybody is affected the same way by the same substance."


Josh Rosenthal

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