“From the federal perspective, marijuana is still a drug. This means that it is easier to conduct research on cocaine, which is a Schedule II drug, than it is on marijuana,” Dr. Hershberger said. While the current presidential administration has adopted a tougher stance on distribution and use of marijuana than the previous, more than 60% of Americans in surveys support decriminalization of marijuana, according to Dr. Hershberger. He suggested that the current acceptability of marijuana is the reason that a recent survey indicated that more U.S. high school seniors than ever before have tried marijuana.
In light of the perceptions that the marijuana ban was ineffective, that marijuana is acceptable, and that profits from marijuana sales and distributions have been going to criminals, depriving government of tax dollars, continued decriminalization appears to be inevitable, Dr. Hershberger said. However, he believes that complete deregulation poses important risk, including an inevitable increase in accidents produced by motor impairment. It is also reasonable to anticipate more substance use in vulnerable populations. The risk to the development of children and adolescents who are likely to gain easier access to cannabis is unknown.
For psychiatrists and other medical specialists who wish to participate in the debate about the degree to which marijuana is decriminalized, both Dr. Hershberger and Dr. Carlson argued that a clear and realistic view of the landscape is essential.
“One of the reasons we are in this state we are in is that many people have declared the war on drugs a failure,” Dr. Hershberger said. Although he acknowledged that recognizing the limited efficacy of a marijuana ban is a reasonable starting point for discussion, he also expressed concern about large corporations being permitted to market cannabis in a way that obscures its risks or encourages use by those at greatest risk of harm, such as minors.