Societal Impact

As access to marijuana increases, as mixed messages about the safety of marijuana are promulgated, and as the ease and frequency of marijuana use is advanced, dependency and addiction rates will rise exponentially and overwhelm the system.

Public Health

The public health impact of marijuana is skewed by the number of people affected; consequently, the impact is not always an accurate reflection of the damage caused.

Until present time, marijuana use has been controlled through no-use messaging, laws and access. Consequently, the impact on public health has been constrained. This limited impact is advanced as evidence of marijuana’s safety and few problems.

The point most often asserted is “marijuana is as safe as or safer than alcohol.” However, “There are roughly six times as many regular drinkers in America (120 million) than regular users of marijuana (19) million); the damage is a function of these dimensions.” 1

  • Another marijuana safety argument is assembled on the premise that one does not overdose using it. Tobacco is similar. While it is unlikely that one dose of nicotine would cause an overdose, tobacco’s devastation and death are widely recognized and documented and never dismissed. (Note: There have been deaths attributable to marijuana edibles.)
  • Marijuana is the second-leading cause for hospital emergency room visits, less than cocaine and more than heroin. Marijuana had 455,668 emergency room mentions a year. 2
  • Two-thirds of new marijuana users are under the age of 18. One in six of these adolescents will go on to develop marijuana use or dependence. 3
  • More high school seniors smoke marijuana than smoke cigarettes. 4


  • Medical marijuana laws make doing business more costly and difficult because it attempts to expand protected classes of individuals to medical marijuana card holders. The laws put employers in an untenable bind—employers who want to maintain their drug-free workplace policies and standards will become easy targets for litigators representing medical marijuana card-carriers who will push their case for discrimination. Alternatively, if employees don’t keep their workplace safe and free of drugs, they will be subject to liability suits from on-the-job accidents.
  • With more people using marijuana in the state, the pool of drug-free applicants will steadily decline and the safety in workplaces will be compromised. With increased numbers of medical marijuana users in the workplace, if employers are going to meet their obligations to their employees, they will have to strengthen their drug-free workplace policies, make them enforceable, and remain vigilant of new developments in the law.
  • Marijuana has devastating social, economic, and physical consequences. Marijuana intoxication worsens neurocognitive performance—meaning that both naïve and chronic users show defects in memory, verbal fluency, attention, learning, perception of time, and sensory perception. These negative effects can last for days or weeks after the acute effects of the drug wear off. Consequently, some who smoke marijuana daily may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level most or all of the time. Several studies have linked workers’ marijuana smoking with increased absences, tardiness, accidents, workers’ compensation claims, and job turnover.


  • Research indicates 9 percent of marijuana users become addicted. Alarmingly, one in six, 17 percent, who start in their teens will become addicted, and 25-50 percent of those teens using daily will become addicted. 5
  • Eating marijuana-infused food products can cause marijuana poisoning. When THC is taken orally there are several significant things which happen that make it potentially unsafe and increases the chance for overdose/poisoning. (THC, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.)
  • Marijuana edibles are sold in medical marijuana states and in states which have legalized marijuana. A “package” which can be a bag of cookies or a single candy bar and can contain as much as 100 milligrams of active THC, which is excessive.
  • Marijuana edibles have a time delay onset. The onset of action for smoking marijuana is 10-15 seconds, and the onset of action is 30-60 minutes when eating marijuana. Smoking gives the user an immediate sense of what they are taking and how it is affecting them. With the slow onset of action, oral users are prone to repeat or increase the dose and risk taking too much and accumulating lethal amounts of THC in the body.
  • Marijuana edibles pose serious dangers to children. The edibles are packaged as candy, and an unsuspecting child can pick up a piece of candy, cookie or brownie and overdose on THC. Teens can eliminate smoking a joint and having their drug use detected, while still getting “high” on an edible. Read more here – Eating Marijuana and Smoking Marijuana Are Dangerously Different


  • The homeless population in Colorado is on the rise, and the increase appears due to young men wanting to smoke marijuana. Homeless shelters report that of the new kids they are seeing the majority say they are there because of the weed. 6


  • Learning is significantly limited by marijuana use. Marijuana use contributes to “college students skipping more classes, spending less time studying, earning lower grades, dropping out of college, and being unemployed after college.” 7

Impaired Driving

  • The THC in marijuana is, unlike other drugs, fat-soluble; it stays stored in the body’s fat cells for weeks, even months.
  • Marijuana alone impairs driving. Research shows that a single marijuana joint with a moderate level of THC can impair a person’s ability to drive for more than 24 hours (Leirer et al, 1991). Alcohol and marijuana together produce higher intoxication than marijuana alone or alcohol alone. Studies show that low to moderate doses of alcohol and THC in combination is exceedingly dangerous and renders a driver incapable of driving safely. A person driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana is two times more likely to risk a fatal crash than a sober person. 8
  • Marijuana impairs cognitive and psychomotor performance. It can slow reaction time to perform complex tasks. Spatial perception is distorted and time perception is impaired so that perceived time goes faster than clock time.
  • In 2010, 12 percent of fatal crashes involved marijuana, compared to 4 percent in 1999. One of nine drivers involved in fatal crashes test positive for marijuana. 9


  • Colorado found that 74 percent of teens in substance abuse treatment programs used diverted medical marijuana. Additionally, “… adolescents who used medical marijuana had an earlier age of regular marijuana use, more marijuana abuse and dependence symptoms, and more conduct disorder symptoms compared with those who did not use medical marijuana.” 10
  • In 2011, some 23 percent of students in grades 9-12 reported using marijuana anywhere at least one time in the previous 30 days, and 6 percent reported using marijuana at least one time on school property over the same time period. 11
  • Fewer students consumed alcohol on school property than used marijuana on school grounds. Five percent had at least one drink on school property. 12
  • Selling marijuana as marijuana-infused edibles – candy, cookies brownies, etc. is appealing to young teens. Eating sweet marijuana-infused edibles is easily hidden.
  • Legalizing medical marijuana could increase the customer base for Mexican drug cartels because there are a lot of card holders who can legally possess marijuana. Mexican cartels will compete with Illinois dispensaries and cultivation centers for their business, and they won’t be paying income taxes, business taxes and real estate taxes. Once the Cartels establish a customer base they can offer their consumers other drugs. 13


1 David W. Murray, Comparing Alcohol and Marijuana: Seriously, Hudson Institute, July 2014.

2 Highlights of the 2011 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) Findings on Drug-related Emergency Department Visits, SAMSHA, 2010.

3 Hall and Degenhardt, 2009, SAMSHA, February 22, 2013.

4 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey, University of Michigan.

5 Budney AJ, Vandrey RG, Hughes JR, Thostenson JD, Bursac Z, Comparison of cannabis and tobacco withdrawal: Severity and contribution to relapse, Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, e-publication, March 12, 2008.

6 Pot seen as reason for rise in Denver homeless, Houston Chronicle, July 26, 2014.

7 Marijuana use increases risk of academic problems, University of Maryland, USA TODAY, June 7, 2013.

8 Treatment Episode Data Set (Teds) Highlights-2009: National Admissions to Substance Abuse Treatment Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, DASIS Series: S-45, DHHS Publication No. SMA 09-4360 Rockville, MD, 2008.

9 Signs Point to Sharp Rise in Drugged Driving Fatalities , Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Journal of Epidemiology, January 29, 2014.

10 Stacy Salomonsen-Sautel, Ph.D., Medical marijuana use among adolescents in substance abuse treatment, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, April 11, 2012.

11 Students’ Use of Marijuana on School Property and Anywhere, Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2013, US Department of Education and US Department of Justice.

12 Students’ Use of Alcohol on School Property and Anywhere, Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2013, US Department of Education and US Department of Justice.

13 Kocherga, Angela, Legalized pot increases competition for Mexican drug cartels, , May 16, 2013.

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