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In marijuana debate, balance revenues against long-term health impacts

In marijuana debate, balance revenues against long-term health impacts


For more than half of a year now we’ve been gripped in a news cycle that seems to be all COVID all the time.

The spread of the novel virus, the rise in deaths, the shuttering of schools and many businesses, the arguments over masks and social distancing have simply dominated our attention and that meant some old disputes were kicked to the curb to deal with on another day.

Marijuana, for instance.

It was just months ago Wisconsin was embroiled in debates over decriminalizing the leafy drug; legalizing it for medicinal and/or recreational purposes; lowering municipal fines for possession or allowing charges to be made under state laws with heavier penalties. And what about CBD products?

All of those disputes seemed to go up in smoke for awhile, but we don’t kid ourselves that they won’t return. The marijuana legalization effort has gone across the U.S. like a juggernaut in the past eight years with 11 states – including neighboring Illinois and Michigan approving it for recreational use and another 26 approving reforms that either decriminalized it, approved it for medicinal use or both.

Which left Wisconsin an outlier state – along with 12 others , mostly in the South and West that haven’t made changes in their laws.

But we have no doubt that sooner or later the marijuana debate will return to gain our attention. Probably sooner.

We saw a headline the other day that said Illinois had broken a record for marijuana sales with $61 million worth of recreational pot sold in July. The CBS story said, “While many businesses have been struggling to survive during the pandemic, Illinois pot dispensaries have continued to thrive …” and that marijuana sales were up 28 percent over June.

And that increase came despite the fact that Illinois delayed plans to issue 75 new licenses for dispensaries that were supposed to open in May – because of the coronavirus.

We saw another news report this month that wasn’t as enthusiastic for this budding industry. It was under the headline: “Weed is not good for your heart, studies say”.

It carried the new scientific message from the American Heart Association which “recommends that people not smoke or vape any substance, including cannabis products, because of the potential harm to the heart, lungs and blood vessels.”

The AHA examined existing research on the connection between cannabis and the heart and found that using marijuana “has the potential to interfere with prescribed medications” as well as to “trigger cardiovascular conditions of events, such as heart attacks and strokes.”

If people do use cannabis products for medical or recreational use, they would be better off with oral or topical forms. That would be gummies or creams – not smoking which carries risks similar to tobacco.

The AHA also lamented that not enough research is being done on today’s highly concentrated marijuana products because it’s still listed as a Schedule 1 drug and the DEA puts tight restrictions on studies.

When the pot debate rolls back around, we’re sure we’ll hear the arguments over how legalization has buoyed the state coffers in neighboring Illinois.

We’ll have to balance that against the Heart Association’s worries that the long-term health impacts might be even costlier. More health studies need to be done and Wisconsin should go very slow on this and wait to see what happens in those states that rushed into the pot market.


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