Marijuana was first legalized in California in 1996, becoming the first state to establish a medical marijuana program. A lot has happened since then, and legalization of recreational marijuana is quickly becoming a hot topic throughout the nation. Most recently, Colorado and Washington have legalized recreation marijuana, and it appears that California could soon legalize recreational marijuana on next year’s ballot, in 2016. Polls seem to indicate that enough voters are in favor of the ballot, as of this time. Yet, what are the concerns with legalization of recreational marijuana?
I recently attended a conference for addiction medicine, and public health officials and ER physicians discussed the ramifications of recreational marijuana legalization in the state of Colorado. There have been increases in the number of ER visits secondary to unintentional consumption of marijuana products, such as food or candy that contain marijuana, but have labeling that look remarkably similar to common food products sold in a grocery store. Additionally, there have also been cases of laboratory explosions secondary to amateurs attempting to create highly concentrated forms of marijuana called hash oil, using butane gas. It is still too early in determining any increase in impaired driving secondary to marijuana use, but it would not be a surprise to find such an uptick, given the increased availability of the drug. The positives of legalization in Colorado were that there were increased revenues from the taxation of marijuana sales, and these funds have been used to educate children and adolescents of the dangers of using marijuana. In my opinion, it is still early in the legalization era to know what the long-term effects will be in each state, but it appears that the march toward legalization in many states will continue unabated.

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