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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Georgia State Professor Urges Caution in Considering Marijuana Legalization

As federal and state debates surrounding the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use heat up, a researchers at the School of Public Health at Georgia State University has written a comprehensive report on the state of marijuana policy in Georgia.

Sheryl Strasser SPH
[Photo: Dr. Sheryl Strasser]

Dr. Sheryl Strasser, associate professor of health promotion and behavior, was the lead author of “The State of Marijuana Use in Georgia: A Secondary Needs Assessment,” which was commissioned by The Council on Alcohol and Drugs in Georgia and published recently.

Dr. Strasser’s report includes information about patterns of use and risk in Georgia, as well as the state’s laws and regulations surrounding marijuana. It also includes recommendations for more research into the drug’s health effects and establishment of workplace policies and public health education programs.

Since November 2014, four states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana and 23 states have laws permitting medical use. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. In Georgia, the General Assembly approved legislation earlier this year permitting medical use of cannabis oil for research and to potentially treat certain illnesses.

While Dr. Strasser notes that Georgia’s marijuana use rate is lower than the country’s as a whole, she also states that legalization, “particularly for recreational use, will likely increase the prevalence of marijuana use, stemming from social normativity, greater access, and decreased perceptions of risk relating to marijuana use.”

Should the state legalize the recreational use of marijuana, it should also allocate some of the tax revenue generated from marijuana to campaigns raising awareness of its possible harms, the report recommends. Those potential health risks include dependency and abuse, as well as cognitive and mental health impacts. The report also emphasizes that more research needs to be done to determine marijuana’s effects on brain function and the body.

The report notes that incidents of driving under the influence could increase as a result of legalized marijuana, but research has not proven what level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive effects — constitutes impairment.

“[T]here is so much we still do not know about marijuana and the extent of costs to human health and society,” the report states. “While the application of the precautionary principle is encouraged, other forces at play may result in legalization and a shift toward prevention and risk reduction.”