How Will New Marijuana Laws Affect Public Health?

The United Nations has spoken publicly against new U.S. laws that make marijuana use legal in a few states. The U. N. official who heads up international drug monitoring has said that the new laws pave the way for increased recreational marijuana use. With drugs representing a significant health problem around the world, the U.N. ambassadors do not see decriminalization as a step in the right direction.

Foreign dignitaries are pointing fingers at the U.S., but drug regulation loopholes are sometimes a mile wide on the continent. Furthermore, the problem abroad is not with marijuana, but with considerably more dangerous drugs made by traffickers. Synthetic drugs, sometimes called designer drugs, are washing across Europe like a tsunami.

Norway, for example, has tight restrictions on smoking tobacco but appears willing to making smoking heroin legal in order to reduce the number of overdose deaths connected to the drug. In 2011, 294 out of every 10,000 heroin users died as a result of their drug use. Small in comparison to most of its western neighbors, Norway leads all of Europe in drug-related deaths.

On the east side of Europe, Russia has been inundated with the synthetic marijuana referred to as Spice. In 2012, tiny Estonia had more deaths from synthetic heroin than any other country in Europe. Interdiction authorities say the problem of synthetic drugs is rampant and that new designer drugs are showing up on nearly a weekly basis.

Europe is not alone of course. Synthetic drugs are a worldwide scourge. Recently in Australia, a man literally beat himself until he killed himself after taking a synthetic form of LSD. The problem is widespread and has earned the name “narco-mania.”

Meanwhile, back in the United States, voices are being raised in concern over how the new drug laws will affect public health. Experts say that there simply is no way to tell at this point but that states like Colorado and Washington where marijuana has been made legal will make excellent petri dishes. In the wake of decriminalization, researchers will be collecting data on both the harm and benefits to public health.

The potential for harm seems self-evident given the fact that marijuana wrecks coordination, perception and memory. Imagine people in this condition getting behind the wheel of a car and the public health impact starts to become clear. Compounding the problem are disagreements over how to measure the drug user’s level of impairment.

Studies have shown that when marijuana is used during the formative adolescent years, it can lower IQ and, in some cases, lead to adult mental illness. The jury is out on how impactful legalization of marijuana will be on public health. Those who expect legalization to show negligible effect say that the U.N. is the proverbial pot calling the kettle black given the serious problem of synthetic drug abuse around the globe.

On the other hand, when countries are scuffling over whose drug problem is most serious, the conversation itself is telling.