Elias: What’s good for pot industry isn’t necessarily so for the public

Since California voters legalized cannabis through a 2016 ballot initiative, it has evolved into something like a normal business. It’s complete with webcasts on how to operate efficiently, disputes over where to place stores and gripes about black marketeers siphoning off too much of the multibillion-dollar take.

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Now the state Assembly has decided the marijuana trade, with retail outlets in almost every corner of the state, is not yet big enough. The lower legislative house voted by a huge margin (49-4, with almost half its members not voting) to expand the business even further by allowing Amsterdam-style lounges that could serve food and drinks along with varieties of cannabis.

The large number of nonvoters (more than a third of Assembly members) was a clear sign that many did not wish to make an enemy of the powerful pot lobby but also did not want to go on the record as favoring expanded cannabis use. Perhaps that was because polls taken as recently as last year indicate about one third of California voters think the pot industry has grown too large and ubiquitous.

The Assembly majority, however, wasn’t worried about that, nor is the state Senate likely to pause very long either. An almost identical bill passed both houses last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who cited state laws requiring smoke-free workplaces. Stronger reasons than that exist, though, for questioning expanded pot use in California. For one thing, while laws control the purity of alcoholic beverages, nothing ensures the quality of marijuana.

The ill effects of cannabis use have been well known for generations: spaced-out behavior, impaired judgment, clouded or heightened senses depending on your personal biology, a distorted sense of time, slower reactions, lower motor skills, reduced inhibitions, less mental focus and memory. On the positive side, there’s pain reduction and better tolerance for some prescription medications and their side-effects, especially among anti-cancer drugs.

Just last year, though, a peer-reviewed report in a journal of the American Psychiatric Association said definitively that if you want to be mentally sharp in middle age and beyond, don’t smoke pot regularly.

“At age 45, people who (said they used) cannabis weekly or more frequently over the past year showed greater cognitive decline than those who never used cannabis,” the report concluded.

In short, if you want to avoid dementia as you age, forget marijuana. Now there’s even more bad news for frequent cannabis users, also tied to advancing age.

This time, it’s the Journal of the American Medical Associations publishing a peer-reviewed Canadian study showing use of dried marijuana flowers and edible pot products by those age 65 or older could lead to acute cannabis toxicity, causing coordination problems, muscle weakness and unsteady hands, lethargy, decreased concentration, slowed reaction time and slurred speech. Large doses of cannabis extracts often produced confusion, amnesia, delusions, hallucinations, anxiety and agitation.

The good news is that most episodes reported by the Sinai Health and University Health Network in Toronto were short. Long-term pot users also experienced paranoia, panic disorder and generalized fear, though.

That’s what you’d risk by going to a newly-legalized pot lounge if they were authorized in California, as the majority of legislators appears to want. That leads to a logical question: What are those so-called state leaders on?

The same for union leaders who moved the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Western States Council to back this legislation, known as AB 1775, sponsored by Assemblymember Matt Haney, D-San Francisco.

“We need to be doing all we can to strengthen California’s legal cannabis industry while it battles high taxation, restrictive regulations and competition from the illicit cannabis market,” said John Frahm, the president of the UFCW’s Hayward-based Local 5, which covers most of Northern California,

He didn’t explain why that’s needed, but it’s safe to say he’d like to unionize any new pot lounges legalized by AB 1775. That may be good for the UFCW, but plainly not for the mental or physical health of pot users.

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com, and read more of his columns online at californiafocus.net.

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