Cannabis Policy Expert: Ideas for Debating Cannabis Responsibly

The conversation about cannabis use must be rooted in science and data.

Capitol Building

Americans should recognize that cannabis is here. Full stop. It is here in states that have prohibited it, in states that have condoned its use for medical purposes and it is here in states that have legal, adult consumption. How we regulate cannabis on a local, state and federal level will help change the positive and negative impacts cannabis has on communities, but no policy will make cannabis go away.

National polling from my organization, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR), shows that 70% of voters are in favor of federal cannabis reform. Yet we lack clear, established best practices around some of the most pressing issues facing cannabis, such as its effect on users' mental health — a fact that I believe has curtailed efforts for regulation.With that in mind, a crucial next step is to have a serious national conversation about how best to regulate cannabis. Unfortunately, op-eds like this one detract from that conversation.

Despite its widespread acceptance, prohibitionists are actively peddling a dangerous and false narrative that cannabis has a direct relationship to violence. Rather than push irresponsible scare tactics based on false claims, it's time to acknowledge the reality that states have acted and pursued responsible federal regulation that results in a safer regulatory framework. Let's start with understanding the facts.

First, it remains unclear whether there is a causal link between cannabis use and violent behavior.

Second, state cannabis legalization does not lead to an increase in crime or violent crime. A cross-examination of data in legal states and non-legal states indicates there was no significant change in crime rates after legalization.

Finally, when examining the link between cannabis-induced psychosis and violent behavior, even prohibitionists making this claim admit the occurrence of violence in that mental state is coincidental. Though it is important to acknowledge that some individuals using high-potency products and certain product formats can potentially yield negative mental health outcomes.

The national conversation about cannabis use must be rooted in science and data. It is imperative that we continue to conduct advanced research to better understand the potential harms and benefits of cannabis and its effects on consumers. Often, claims about the effects of cannabis on mental health fall on seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum. While the truth is likely somewhere in the middle, caveats are essential and additional moderating factors must be considered.

This conversation must also consider the potentially harmful effects of cannabis use and consider practical measures to prevent negative outcomes, including youth use, substance abuse disorder, and impaired driving. Beyond supporting additional research and data into these topics, we must consider best practices for keeping the public safe around other substances, such as tobacco, alcohol and opioids.

When dealing with difficult and politically charged topics like mental health, we should be nuanced and thoughtful about how we discuss and present our thoughts and research-based findings, especially as we continue to work with experts to painstakingly tease out the benefits and harms of cannabis consumption.

As stated in CPEAR's paper on mental health and cannabis, we must have a regulatory structure for governing cannabis that is rooted in science, evidence and data to better understand this substance and utilize reasonable guardrails. This regulatory structure should provide standardized policies governing critical issues like protecting consumers and patients, barring underage use, and upholding public health and safety, among others. With a thorough and thoughtful national dialogue, we can advance toward this goal and prevent years of half measures and wasted progress.

Prohibitionists and advocates share many of the same values. Nobody should be consuming and then driving, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or if you are under the age of 21 (unless under close doctor supervision). And we should be doing everything in our power to treat and prevent addiction. America must take a sober look at the data and research and shape best practices, as responsible use must be part of any version of responsible regulation. Just as we urge people who consume cannabis to do so responsibly, we also urge those who debate cannabis policy to do so responsibly.

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