As recreational marijuana advocates celebrate the recent legalization of pot for personal use in the Green Mountain State, troubling reports about users high on the drug are casting a pall on pro-cannabis euphoria.
Last week, police officers in Rutland arrested Anthony Gaines, 19, for aggravated assault with a knife and resisting police at a car rental outlet on Main Street.
The California teen, whose father lives in Proctor, was allegedly high on marijuana, which may also have been laced with an unknown chemical. Judge Thomas Zonay of Rutland County Superior Court released Gaines on $10,000 bail. The attack at the car rental office was deemed a mental-health incident by police.
The event, yet another violent disturbance related to marijuana use in Vermont, is spurring an anti-pot-legalization coalition to make the case that legalization carries increased health-and-safety risks for Vermonters.
“Although, fortunately, no one was injured, the scene of a screaming, knife-wielding, apparently psychotic man whose lawyer suggested he had been smoking marijuana should give pause to Vermont legislators and other policy leaders who are considering (the) regulated sale of marijuana.” Guy Page, executive director for Physicians, Families & Friends for a Better Vermont, said this week in a statement to media.
It wasn’t the first high-profile act of violence committed under the influence of the drug.
In October 2016, Steven Bourgoin, 37, of Williston, crashed a stolen police car into another vehicle on I-89, killing five teenagers, four from Harwood Union High School. Bourgoin, who had been using marijuana and was found to have high levels of THC in his system, is now accused of murder and is being held without bail at the Northwest State Correctional Facility.
“The connection between high-potency marijuana, psychosis and violence is strong and must be understood and acknowledged,” Page said this week.
Despite upbeat media news reports about marijuana legalization in Vermont and other parts of the country, a number of respected physicians in the state also oppose marijuana legalization.
Psychiatrist and addiction expert John Hughes, M.D., of the University of Vermont, went on record last year to oppose legalization efforts.
“I think there is sufficient evidence to say (THC in marijuana) … causes psychosis,” he said. ” … I cannot help but say to legislators that the weight of the evidence that … MJ causes psychosis is several times greater than the weight of evidence for most medical marijuana indications.”
Another widely known Vermont physician has also pushed back against legal marijuana efforts.
“It is time to move past false politically driven debates and put into action efforts to reduce the negative impacts of cannabis on developing brains,” Dr. David Rettew, an author and Burlington-based child psychiatrist, said.
Beyond Vermont, other states are either wrestling with legalization, or efforts to speed legalization of marijuana.
According to a 2016 report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association, 44 percent of drivers killed in auto accidents, with known results, tested positive for drugs. The numbers indicated an increase from 28 percent in 2006.
A letter published in the Feb. 18, 2018 JAMA Internal Medicine journal, written by researchers of the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto, stated that “driving after cannabis consumption is surprisingly common.” The letter also was reported as indicating that research has already shown that THC affects the reaction time of motorists while impacting driving speed and roadway lane positioning.
Marijuana use is also showing up in insurance claims. The Highway Loss Data Institute reported that, for Colorado, Oregon and Washington, where pot had been legalized, an increase in collision claims has been reported — approximately 3 percent higher than the time prior to legalization. The institute also reported more drivers admitting to smoking weed.
Last month, members of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee held a special hearing to learn more about reports of the rise of drug-impaired driving. At the Washington, D.C., hearing, Colleen Sheehy-Church, of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, testified about driving impairment.
“We do not know how many people are killed each year due to drug-impaired driving,” she told House committee members. “… With the prevalence of marijuana legalization — recreation and medicinal — it is critical that more work be done to understand impairment.”
Physicians in the United Kingdom, where liberal government officials also have been pushing for legal smoking of marijuana, also are warning of a Pandora’s box of troubles. Sir Robin Murray, a professor at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, has been vocal about evidence showing that increased pot smoking increases incidents of psychosis, schizo behavior and even paranoid delusions.
“I don’t think any serious researcher or psychiatrist would now dispute that cannabis consumption is a component cause of psychosis,” Murray said in a Daily Mail news report.
Physicians, Families & Friends for a Better Vermont, in cooperation with Smart Approaches to Marijuana–Vermont, are urging the Vermont attorney general and other state officials to prosecute drug dealers exploiting the new Act 86 marijuana law, and to repeal or amend the law to permanently close a loophole which has led to the “gifting” of pot to consumers.
Page also noted that, for first time since the 1990s, consumption of marijuana and alcohol by Vermont youth has increased. If true, such data would indicate a major setback for the work of civilian and police anti-drug and addiction programs in Vermont schools and elsewhere.
“The number of Vermont high school students who currently use marijuana has increased from 22 percent in 2015 to 24 percent in 2017,” Page said, referring to a Vermont Department of Health Youth Risk Behavior survey.
“Compared to 2015, more high school students report ever drinking alcohol (56 percent vs. 58 percent), as well as drinking in the last 30 days (30 percent vs. 33 percent),” he added.
Lou Varricchio is a freelance reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.