Much has been said, pro and con regarding marijuana legalization in Colorado, but it appears there remain many more questions than answers. Employers are left wondering how to handle positive drug screens, especially when an employee possesses a medical marijuana license. Even judges and probation officials have appeared confused, along with addictions counselors. Nobody wants to deprive someone of a legitimate medication of course, but now with recreational use across the board, Colorado has become an experiment – a salad of pros and cons with an outcome that can only be guessed at.
But some things aren't guesses. "Booze and drugs kill people," said one recovering staff member recently. Like alcohol, marijuana does have a dark side.
Marijuana is a seductive and powerfully addictive drug. Some argue it is 'only' psychological. But no matter how an addiction manifests itself—whether physically like heroin, or mentally like marijuana and early alcoholism--the addiction has its roots in the physical brain.
Do psychologically addictive drugs really have any less a potential for ruin and destruction? At least part of the answer is stamped on the faces of anguished parents as they receive positive test results on their children, kids who often are failing in schools and losing interest in looking forward at their future.
The rush to legalization has also sent a shockwave through the recovering community. Many, especially those in early recovery from various addictions, are reporting cravings and other feelings of uneasiness in regard to the new permissiveness. It's legal, so is it ok to use now? "It's legal" is also commonly heard from using-teens as a new justification as well.
"Alcohol is worse" is another commonly heard justification, but while alcohol certainly can be destructive, the majority of light drinkers (1 drink per occasion) and moderate drinkers (2 drinks per occasion) have relatively few problems. It's the heavier drinkers who become intoxicated when they drink that both suffer and cause most problems, with 5 or more drinks considered heavy drinking for most people. But marijuana users generally become intoxicated every time they use (with some exceptions on the medical users of Marinol, etc.) There doesn't seem to be a marijuana equivalent to the baseball fan who, for example, may have a cold beer and hot dog at the game with no intoxication as a result. Marijuana use results in a powerfully euphoric experience, with known side effects on motivation, cognition, and memory. It's probably not so great for the lungs either. But if a society based on euphoria makes sense to you, this is your drug!
Addiction in our society has been called the "hidden illness," because it's a sickness people don't tell their doctors they have—or usually even themselves. We often see the deterioration of truth spread in families, a common example being "Well, at least it's only pot he's using." Question, if someone is 'only' using marijuana, are they less, or more likely to use 'worse' intoxicating drugs at some point?
Denial is also a feature of our society at-large, as we tend to see only the worst cases as having a problem. The hobo drinking cheap booze on the street's an alcoholic, but was he twenty years before when he wore silk suits to his martini lunches? It's part of our blind spot—like hidden quicksand.
It may be the issue of our denial as a society turns out to be the biggest unanswered question of all as Colorado becomes the Pot capitol of the nation.