Pete Ricketts

Pete Ricketts is the governor of the state of Nebraska.

The big marijuana industry grew to $13.6 billion in 2019, and marijuana lobbyists are eagerly looking to cash in on new markets. They’re pouring big money into shaping public opinion on marijuana across the nation. To avoid regulation, the industry wants to persuade people that the drug is not only harmless, but can be safely used as a medicine to relieve pain.

Nebraskans shouldn’t be dazed and confused by these well-funded sales tactics. Marijuana is an illegal drug according to federal law. It’s illegal because medical experts have determined, on the basis of solid scientific evidence, that the drug is harmful. It’s also illegal because public officials have recognized the social costs and dangers of marijuana use.

Don’t take my word for it. All you have to do is read the latest data and research coming from states that are expanding marijuana use.

First, states that have legalized marijuana, like Colorado and Oregon, have seen a spike in car accidents due to “drugged drivers.” Marijuana makes drivers less alert, slower to react and poorer judges of their surroundings. Marijuana is the drug most likely to be present in the body of drivers fatally injured in a crash. According to an American Academy of Pediatrics report this month, “more than 9% of drivers ages 16-20 admit to having driven under the influence of marijuana.” Drugged driving is also extremely difficult to enforce, as there are no simple ways to test drivers for drug impairment. Approving marijuana use, even for so-called medical purposes, will only make this problem worse.

Second, legalizing marijuana sends the wrong message to young people. It communicates that a dangerous drug is nothing to worry about. However, medical science and the human cost of legalization say otherwise. Studies have shown that using marijuana in adolescence causes long-term damage to important cognitive abilities. This is troubling since 23% of 12th grade students (nationally) report having used marijuana within the past month. Marijuana use impairs memory, shortens attention spans and hinders learning. Marijuana use also increases depression, thoughts of suicide and suicidal behaviors among young adults.

The data is reflected in real-life stories. Levi Pongi, 19, died after consuming a marijuana cookie and jumping off a balcony. Marc Bullard, 23, committed suicide after he began using a concentrated form of marijuana. He had no previous history of depression. These stories reflect data from Colorado showing that the number of youth suicides with marijuana present has tripled in 10 years.

Third, marijuana is far more potent and addictive today than it was in previous generations. Prior to the 1990s, marijuana typically had less than 2% THC (the chemical causing the psychoactive effect of the drug). However, growers have bred strains of marijuana to enhance THC content, much like tobacco companies increased the nicotine levels of their products to heighten their addictiveness.

While the industry tries to frame pot as a natural remedy akin to essential oils, modern weed is bioengineered to pack a potent punch. Popular strains of marijuana sold in Colorado now have between 17-28% THC content, or 14 times as potent as marijuana prior to the 1990s. Other marijuana-based products, such as edibles, have THC concentrations as high as 80-90%. There’s nothing natural about that. As a result of this change, marijuana users are now more likely to experience psychotic episodes or uncontrollable vomiting. These disorders endanger the public, and they also put a strain on health care resources like mental health centers and emergency rooms.

Fourth, the nation’s top medical professional has gone on the record to remind Americans that there is no such thing as “medical marijuana.” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams recently highlighted marijuana’s danger to the developing brain and how potent marijuana has become. In a speech last year, he noted that one in five pregnant women in California is using marijuana. He also pointed out that marijuana has over 100 components, and, while some of them may have medical benefits, that they need to be studied just like any other pharmaceutical.

In Nebraska, marijuana proponents have been trying to circumvent the medical research process that has helped our country produce the most safe and effective health care in the world. This is the wrong approach. We should stick with the tried-and-true system, which is already doing research on what components of marijuana actually have medical benefits. After thorough research and extended clinical trials, the FDA has approved four medications that contain specific cannabinoids — chemicals found within the marijuana plant. All of these FDA-approved medicines are already available in all 50 states to patients with a doctor’s prescription. They don’t need to be legalized.

As governor, I have a duty to promote public safety. I want Nebraskans to be informed of the dangers of marijuana and to know where I stand on the issue. I firmly oppose legislative legalization and will veto any legislation that attempts to make marijuana use lawful in the Cornhusker State. If you have questions about this issue, please email pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244.

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