In light of the opioid and heroin crisis that is currently sweeping the nation, bills are to be introduced to the Virginia General Assembly insofar as trying to get a handle on keeping the epidemic under control. And with marijuana increasingly becoming legal in the country, both for recreational and medicinal purposes, there is a significant interest in researching the long-term effects of the drug, as well as trying to put a system in place that will be able to better measure at what point someone can be considered "intoxicated" before they attempt to operate a motor vehicle.
Over a dozen bills have been proposed for the General Assembly's consideration. Nancy Hans, the coalition chair and the Executive Director of the Prevention Council of Roanoke County, says that a "wait and see approach" needs to be taken when it comes to legalizing marijuana – meaning that we need to see what happens as a result of the states that have already legalized the drug. These states serve as good markers to monitor the state of things, especially over the long term.
Hans makes the good point that talking about legalizing marijuana doesn’t exactly make sense right now when we have such an out-of-control heroin and opioid crisis in this country at the moment. Says Hans: "we’ve got to put our heads and hands around [this crisis] and start to change that direction." She continued: " Let’s take the time to see what’s happening in those legalized states and the impact and don’t rush into this.”
Some of the items the General Assembly is considering include:
• A study on the long-term effects of marijuana usage. Specifically, delegate Bob Marshall proposes that the Joint Committee on Health Care conduct a study before the idea of decriminalization can be considered. Such traits to be studied would include:
o Average age of first use
o Side effects on mental health
o Brain development
o Marijuana usage on school dropout rates
• A requirement to be put in place by the year 2021 that colleges support a substance abuse recovery housing program
As it stands right now, it's not like we don't know anything at all about the long-term effects of marijuana usage. Some of the long-term effects that have been confirmed include:
• A decline in the user's IQ. Research shows that a person can lose up to eight IQ points if they start smoking as an adolescent and continue smoking into adulthood.
• Frequent marijuana smokers can experience the same kinds of breathing issues that plague cigarette smokers, such as daily cough and phlegm, and a higher risk of lung infections and lung illnesses.
• Pregnant women who smoke marijuana can potentially harm their unborn babies. Marijuana has been linked to issues with both behavioral and brain development in children later in life who were exposed to marijuana as fetuses. They may experience difficulties with paying attention, memories, and problem-solving. Additionally, it has been confirmed that small amounts of THC end up in the milk of a breastfeeding mother.