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Marijuana: Doctors face off over Amendment 64

The campaigns for and against Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, continue to engage in endorsement wars.

The latest salvos? Opponents are hyping a letter decrying Amendment 64 connected to Dr. Claudia Kunrath and the Colorado chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (read it below), while backers are countering with a supportive pediatrician and a tease about 300 doctors expected to back the measure this week.

As noted by Smart Colorado, the leading No on 64 organization, Kunrath and several other pediatricians penned an open letter attacking the act. "Regardless of your feelings about marijuana, we, as pediatricians, feel it is important to know about how marijuana legalization can affect children and teenagers and the increased risks they could face if Amendment 64 passes," they wrote.

To bolster this assertion, the letter's signatories shared arguments synopsized by Smart Colorado like so:

• Since medical marijuana dispensaries began operating in 2009, there have been more accidental ingestions of marijuana by young children in Colorado. Between October 2009 and December 2011, there were 14 children (ages 8 months-12 years) seen for accidental marijuana ingestions at Children's Hospital Colorado. Of these children, 9 had documented exposure to someone else's medical marijuana, 8 were hospitalized, and 2 required admission to the intensive care unit.

• Chronic use of marijuana before age of 15 leads to worse neurocognitive functioning (i.e. ability to think, to reason, and to work) later in life.

• Using marijuana as a young teenager puts vulnerable individuals at increased risk of developing of psychosis.

• Compared to 2007-2008, there have been 15 more fatal car crashes involving a driver under the influence of marijuana in 2009-2010.

These factoids proved persuasive to the Colorado Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics Board of Directors, who have now endorsed the letter as well.

The campaigners in favor of Amendment 64 countered with a physician of their own: Dr. Richard Karsh, a Colorado Springs doc certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. He responded to the letter with this statement:

I share my colleagues' desire to prevent and reduce the use of marijuana by teens, but I do not agree with their desire to maintain our current system of marijuana prohibition. Not only has it failed to accomplish that goal, it has been exceptionally counterproductive. If our goal is to control marijuana and keep it out of the hands of teens, it makes little sense to keep it in entirely uncontrolled underground market, where those selling it do not ask for ID and might also have access to other more dangerous drugs.

Marijuana prohibition poses far more health and safety problems than it solves, which is why hundreds of Colorado physicians and I support Amendment 64. It is time for a more sensible, evidence-based approach.

Also adding her thoughts was Betty Aldworth, an Amendment 64 spokeswoman. She said the initiative will actually make it more difficult for teenagers to access weed than is currently the case. She also pointed out that government surveys show teen marijuana use has actually declined in Colorado since the state began regulating medical marijuana, while rising in the nation as a whole.

Most intriguing, though, is Aldworth's note that this week, "we will be holding a news conference to announce that more than 300 Colorado physicians have endorsed Amendment 64, including a number in the field of pediatrics."

Continue to read the entire letter endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatric's Colorado chapter, as well as the press release response by the Amendment 64 campaign.

Letter endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatric's Colorado chapter:

American Academy of Pediatrics Colorado Chapter Amendment 64 Letter

Release from the Amendment 64 campaign:

Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Responds to American Academy of Pediatrics Letter in Opposition to Amendment 64

Statement below from campaign advocacy director Betty Aldworth

DENVER -- The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has issued the following statements in response to the letter from the Colorado chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics in opposition to Amendment 64:

Statement from Dr. Richard Karsh, MD, a physician in Colorado Springs certified by the American Board of Pediatrics, Sub-Board of Pediatric Cardiology, whose 43 years of practice in pediatric medicine has included a fellowship in pediatric cardiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and a residency at Duke University Medical Center:

"I share my colleagues' desire to prevent and reduce the use of marijuana by teens, but I do not agree with their desire to maintain our current system of marijuana prohibition. Not only has it failed to accomplish that goal, it has been exceptionally counterproductive. If our goal is to control marijuana and keep it out of the hands of teens, it makes little sense to keep it in entirely uncontrolled underground market, where those selling it do not ask for ID and might also have access to other more dangerous drugs.

"Marijuana prohibition poses far more health and safety problems than it solves, which is why hundreds of Colorado physicians and I support Amendment 64. It is time for a more sensible, evidence-based approach."

Betty Aldworth, advocacy director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol:

"Not only will Amendment 64 prohibit teens from using marijuana, it will make it harder for them to access it. Despite marijuana's illegal status, teens have reported for years that it is easier for them to purchase marijuana than it is to purchase alcohol and tobacco. By tightly regulating alcohol and tobacco, initiating strategies like the 'We Card' program, and educating young people about their potential harms, we have seen teen use drop dramatically.

"This is even more evident in Colorado, where survey data from the federal government shows teen alcohol use has dropped about 23 percent in Colorado since 2005, during which time there were significant efforts to highlight the harms associated with it. Interestingly, it also shows marijuana use by high school students has dropped since Colorado began regulating medical marijuana, whereas it has increased nationwide.

"We respect this organization's opinion on this issue, but it is quite clear that not all of their colleagues agree. Next week we will be holding a news conference to announce that more than 300 Colorado physicians have endorsed Amendment 64, including a number in the field of pediatrics."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Colorado Democratic Party convention supports Amendment 64."


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