As a provider of physical and behavioral health services including services for substance use disorders, Pillars Community Health is concerned about the potential adverse impacts of the Illinois recreational cannabis law.
As of September 2018, 65 percent of local jurisdictions in Colorado have banned medical and recreational marijuana businesses. We urge the communities we serve to consider the same ban, as the public health risks outweigh the incremental tax revenue from retail cannabis sales. (In 2017, Colorado’s marijuana tax revenue was nine-tenths of one percent.)
A significant public health issue is the potential increase in substance use disorders and resulting negative impacts on family, school, work, and increased health care costs. Substance use disorder is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication. Government research indicates that as many as 10 percent of cannabis users will develop a chemical dependency—and the impact on our children is even greater. Several studies show that children who begin abusing substances are at least four times more likely to become addicted than people who start after age 21 because of the impact of these substances on brain development.
Still, the public health risks of cannabis use extend beyond concerns about substance abuse. As reported by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Strategic Alliance Unit, the rate of ER visits related to marijuana in Colorado increased 52 percent from 2012 to 2016. As reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, carcinogens from marijuana smoke are 50 to 75 percent more toxic than tobacco smoke and the effect is often exacerbated because marijuana smokers inhale more deeply than tobacco smokers. Using marijuana raises heart rates from 20 to 100 percent for up to three hours after use, boosting the risk of heart-related problems. There is substantial comorbidity of mental health disorders and increased use of cannabis. Increased use of cannabis may also lead to a higher number of traffic offenses and fatalities. A cannabis high alters perception while one is under the influence. Yet, there is no test similar to an alcohol breathalyzer to determine driving under the influence of cannabis. And the prevalence of driving under the influence of marijuana may be higher than driving while intoxicated by alcohol: A Colorado study performed by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Strategic Alliance Unit shows that 57 percent of people who used cannabis reported driving within two hours of use, on 11 of 30 days (compared to 38 percent of persons who consumed alcohol who reported driving within two hours of use, on three of 30 days).
As one of the first nonprofits in the state of Illinois to merge primary medical and dental care under the same banner as behavioral health and social services, we are in a unique position to see both the medical and behavioral health implications of marijuana use up close. Those implications—the risks to our population’s overall health—are too great to ignore. We hope our communities will stand beside us in encouraging a ban of marijuana businesses in our service area.