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As the national conversation continues about legalization of marijuana, we encourage all residents, leaders and legislators to be fully informed when taking a stance on the issue.
We offer some data-supported analysis of today’s marijuana, trends from states with legalized marijuana, and how youth are most at risk of developing dependencies and addictions when using the drug as young adults.
Why do we present this information? Because our top priority, and the most important function of government, is public safety. We feel it aligns with our mission as public servants to present facts about who is using marijuana in states with legalization and the attached impacts.
Eleven states have legalized marijuana for recreational use for adults over the age of 21. Many more states, including Pennsylvania, have legalized medicinal marijuana.
To be clear, our office does not take a stance on medicinal marijuana. We do strongly encourage those with prescriptions to discuss with their doctor when it is safe to drive, and the effects of mixing medicinal marijuana with alcohol, other medications, etc.
Listen to you doctor about when it is OK to drive; do not risk the safety of yourself and others on the roadway!
As for legalization of recreational use, we support alternative prosecution paths - such as Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD), Youth Aid Panel, and our own diversion program aimed at first-time drug-possession offenses - as far better options.
We pulled data from states first to legalize which, in turn, have more of a sample size for research and trend-finding.
Here are five points relevant to the work we do at the District Attorney’s Office:
There are more drugged drivers and related fatalities since legalization. Marijuana-involved traffic fatalities have doubled in Colorado and Washington since legalization, according to AAA and Washington Traffic Safety Commission. THC, the active component in marijuana, delays drivers’ response times, according to the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Already in Lancaster County, about a quarter of all DUI cases involve drugs.
Legalization causes normalization. In other words, if it is openly available and legal, it becomes socially acceptable and used by more people. Teens/young adults in Colorado, Oregon and Washington reported increased use and exposure to marijuana. Use by teens in Washington is up 11 to 13 percent. Over half of Oregon teens who tried/use marijuana said they obtained it for free. (Data from High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area programs in those states.)
Teens/young adults are most likely to develop addictions. 16 percent of teenagers who use/try marijuana will become addicted, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Also, marijuana use can irreparably impact IQ levels, according to National Institutes of Health.
Lancaster County Prison is not overcrowded by marijuana users – in fact, we do not know of a single inmate there because of a marijuana possession charge by itself. In general, we feel this talking point – we believe it a myth - regards inmates with marijuana-related parole and probation violations, with underlying crimes (not marijuana possession).
An alarming stat out of Colorado to consider: The crime rate there has increased 11 times faster than the rest of the nation since legalization, per the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
Today’s marijuana is not like the Woodstock-era weed. Levels of THC were around 5 percent in the 1960s. There are virtually no limits today: THC levels as high as 99 percent have been reported. Also, the way marijuana is consumed has changed: edibles and vape pens facilitate much higher THC levels.
Speaking generally about legalization, Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said:
“The old “War on Drugs” approach to marijuana possession is not the answer, and we should not – and do not – incarcerate in small marijuana amount possession cases. However, the public health and safety risks are crucial for discussions about full legalization.”
MEDIA CONTACT: Brett A. Hambright, 717-295-2041; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @BrettHambright