PHOTO: Medical marijuana

An employee at a medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., sorts buds into prescription bottles. 

LAST month, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring once again stated his support for easing marijuana laws in Virginia. “It’s time to move toward legal, regulated adult use,” he tweeted.

A recent University of Mary Washington study indicates 61 percent of Virginians agree. That may please advocacy organizations and investors who are betting on the future of pot, and even some politicians looking for votes, but would legalization benefit Virginia overall?

In July, I wrote about Alex Berenson (author of “Tell Your Children: The Truth about Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence”) and his research into a possible link between pot use, schizophrenia, and violent acts. He sounds the alarm, citing a 50-year study linking marijuana use and violence, as well as a plethora of other studies that show a low correlation between mental illness and violence—unless the patients use pot.

Now there’s more to think about: States are called the “laboratories of democracy” because they can try things and other states can watch and learn. In 2000, Colorado legalized medical marijuana in a very limited way. In 2009, the sale of medical marijuana was commercialized, and then in January, 2014, recreational marijuana use became legal.

So what has happened in Colorado since the state flung the door wide open for pot? In September, the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Strategic Intelligence Unit released a report tracking the impacts of marijuana.

Here are some of the changes that occurred in Colorado from 2013 (when pot was allowed for medical uses only) to the end of 2018 (the latest year statistics were available). In the five years of more widespread pot availability:

Traffic deaths in which drivers tested positive for marijuana increased 109 percent, and overall traffic deaths increased 31 percent.

The percentage of all marijuana-related traffic deaths increased from 15 percent in 2013 to 23 percent in 2018.

Past month marijuana use for ages 12 and older increased 58 percent.

Adult marijuana use increased 94 percent, and is 98 percent higher than the national average.

Health statistics, available for 2013 to 2017, showed:

The annual number of emergency department visits related to marijuana increased 54 percent.

Marijuana-related hospitalizations increased 101 percent.

The number of suicide incidents in which toxicology reports found evidence of marijuana increased from 14 percent to 23 percent.

Despite the relative ease of acquiring marijuana for personal use, black market pot is an increasing issue in Colorado. The RMHIDTA Task Force conducted 257 investigations resulting in:

192 felony arrests;

6.08 tons of marijuana seized;

Over 60,000 marijuana plants seized;

25 states identified as potential destinations for the illegal pot.

Herring notes that legalized pot in Virginia should be “regulated.” That’s another word for “taxed.” The government always snags a slice of the profit pie. But Colorado found that actual tax revenue from marijuana sales amounted to only nine-tenths of 1 percent of the state’s fiscal 2018 budget, hardly enough to cover the increased cost to the public of widespread marijuana use.

In fact, a study by Colorado Christian University found that “for every dollar gained in tax revenue, Coloradans spent approximately $4.50 to mitigate the effects of legalization.” The largest portion of that cost came from health care impacts.

The bad news continues: Schools identify pot as a cause of almost 80 percent of suspensions, expulsions, and law-enforcement referrals.

The state’s department of health says that “daily or near-daily marijuana use by adolescents and young adults is associated with developing a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia in adulthood.”

Furthermore, using marijuana weekly or more frequently is associated with “impaired learning, memory, math and reading achievement,” even as long as four weeks later. The Journal of Neuroscience in March noted that structural changes in the brains of adolescents can be found after just one or two uses of pot.

Ah, but Herring is advocating for adult use, right? Fine. The Colorado Department of Health has also found that:

“Daily or near-daily marijuana smoking is strongly associated with pre-malignant lesions that may lead to cancer in the airways of your lungs.”

Among adults, acute marijuana use may be associated with increased risk of heart attacks.

Risk of stroke maybe be elevated with pot use.

Long-term use of marijuana is associated with “cyclic vomiting.”

Daily or near-daily use is associated with development of psychotic disorders.

THC can cause acute symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, or delusions.

Use during pregnancy is associated with negative effects on the baby, including cognitive function, effects which may not appear until adolescence.

THC passes through breast milk.

So how’s recreational pot working out in Colorado? Not so well. In fact, 64 percent of local jurisdictions in the state have banned both medical and recreational marijuana retail outlets.

Why? The social side effects are too great.

I urge all Virginians, including Herring, to read Berenson’s book, or at least his article in the January issue of Imprimis, and this Colorado report, available online, before pushing legalization of marijuana in Virginia. Governments should be about promoting human flourishing, not putting out a welcome mat for trouble.

Linda J. White is a former assistant editorial page editor. She can be reached through her website at

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