Editor’s Note: On October 24, the Massachusetts Orthopaedic Association became the 11th medical specialty society to state its opposition to Question 4.
Contact: Richard Gulla
Threats to youth, lack of public health oversight, highway and occupational safety are major concerns of physicians
Waltham, Mass. -- The Massachusetts Medical Society along with 10 statewide physician specialty groups have jointly announced their opposition to Question 4, the ballot initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana in the state.
The physicians represent a wide range of medical specialties, including internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, psychiatry, anesthesiology, neurosurgery, gastroenterology, and urology.
They united in their opposition to the ballot question based on the negative impact it would have on public health and safety, the health dangers it presents to youth despite a proposed ban on sales to those under 21, and the lack of any public health oversight or protections offered by the ballot question.
“The ballot question 4 on recreational marijuana lacks any consideration for the public health of the citizens of the Commonwealth, especially for our young people,” said James S. Gessner, M.D., president of the Massachusetts Medical Society. “Physicians believe that its approval would simply be a big step backward for public health and safety in our state.”
In voicing the physicians’ opposition, Dr. Gessner cited a number of specific factors, including the risks of addiction, ranging anywhere from 9 percent to as high as 50 percent, depending on when use begins, the age of the user, and how often it is used; cognitive impairment from marijuana; its damaging effect on adolescent brain development; the risk of use during pregnancy, and threats to highway and occupational safety.
Dr. Gessner said physicians are particularly worried about how this law would affect children and adolescents. A major concern of physicians is that the question permits the sale of marijuana edibles – cookies, candies, snack food, and drinks – which are especially appealing to children.
Michael McManus, M.D., M.P.H, immediate past president of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said “We know that marijuana harms the health and development of children and adolescents. Making it more available to adults, regardless of restrictions, increases access for teenagers and persuades them that marijuana is not dangerous. ” Dr. McManus added that, for adolescents, marijuana can impair memory and concentration, interfere with learning, and lower the chances of completing high school or obtaining a college degree.
George Abraham, M.D., Massachusetts Governor of the American College of Physicians, which represents primary care physicians, said that his group feels that “recreational marijuana will serve as a gateway drug and further worsen the existing opioid crisis in the Commonwealth.”
In addition to citing the dangers to children and potential effects on public health and safety, Dr. Gessner took aim at the ballot question itself, saying Question 4 suffers from two major failings: it lacks any public health oversight or authority in the development of the regulations that would guide implementation of the law, and it has no provisions for any revenue from the sale of the drug to be earmarked for health care, education, prevention, or treatment programs.
“This ballot question was written by and for the marijuana industry,” Dr. Gessner said, “without any regard for the public health of Massachusetts residents.”
“One need only to look at the experience of Colorado,” Dr. Gessner added, “to see the serious effects that recreational marijuana can bring.” He said that research has revealed that Colorado, since approving the recreational use of the drug in 2012, has seen an increase in marijuana use by youth 12-17 (56 percent higher than the national average), a rise in marijuana-related emergency room visits (29 percent) and hospitalizations (38 percent), and a jump in marijuana-related traffic deaths (48 percent).
The state medical society is distributing information to all of its physician members across the state about the ballot question and recreational marijuana to assist physicians in responding to questions from their patients. The Society has also created a website with additional materials about the health risks of marijuana, details of the ballot question, and experiences in other states that have legalized recreational marijuana. Information is available at www.massmed.org/marijuana.
Joining the Medical Society in its opposition to the ballot question are the following state medical specialty groups:
- Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
- Massachusetts Chapter of the American College of Physicians
- Massachusetts Academy of Family Physicians
- Massachusetts Psychiatric Society
- Massachusetts College of Emergency Physicians
- Massachusetts Society of Anesthesiologists
- Massachusetts American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- Massachusetts Gastroenterology Association
- Massachusetts Society of Neurosurgeons
- Massachusetts Association of Practicing Urologists