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Legalized Marijuana Policies Should Follow Public Health Framework to Reduce Damage to Public Health

In This Article

  • A statement of concern, cosigned by pediatricians, mental health and addiction clinicians and scientists, identifies several health risks of marijuana use including serious psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder
  • The statement also argues that oversights in the social equity program included in the state's marijuana regulation could backfire against vulnerable communities without careful consideration
  • Authors propose a public health framework that would tighten regulations in order to increase public awareness of the risks of marijuana use and reduce underage use

In May, a group of medical professionals and experts that included pediatricians, mental health and addiction clinicians and scientists published a statement of concern regarding marijuana policy in Massachusetts.

Cosignatories of the statement, including thirteen clinicians and researchers specializing in substance use disorders from the Addiction Recovery Management Service and the Center for Addiction Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, condemned the state's rollout of the policy and regulations for the sale of recreational marijuana since it was legalized in November 2016.

Concerns with Marijuana Regulations

The statement states that treating marijuana as an "ordinary commodity" can lead to more harm than good. The group recommends instead stricter adherence to a "public health framework," similar to the approach used with the tobacco industry. This regulatory framework would prioritize population-level health over commercial market interests and support.

Some of the greatest concerns, supported by research carried out at Mass General and elsewhere, expressed in the statement are:

  • The addictiveness of THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, particularly in young users
  • The potency of modern marijuana and THC—products today are far more potent than ever before, with some products containing over 90% THC
  • The increased risk of developing schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts with regular marijuana use


In the statement, the group makes a number of key recommendations:

  • Protect vulnerable populations by suspending licensing and conducting a public health impact assessment of the social equity program
  • Establish stricter product standards that control advertising and labeling practices, potency limits and disclaimers that include the mental health risks of marijuana use
  • Develop and provide funding for a public education campaign that warns of the risks of marijuana use and aims to prevent underage use
  • Comprehensively monitor data associated with marijuana sales and use
  • Take specific measures to prevent industry participants from lobbying against public health initiatives and clarify conflict of interest standards
  • Reduce underage use by avoiding indiscriminate sales via delivery services or the internet and limit the amount and frequency of marijuana purchases to reduce the risk of diversion to those under the legal age

Risks of the Social Equity Program

In addition to the health risks associated with marijuana use, the statement criticizes the social equity program that has been folded into Massachusetts marijuana regulations. The program aims to promote the distribution of economic opportunity in the sale of marijuana among communities that tend to be excluded from such opportunities.

Authors of the statement argue that while the program is well-intentioned, it would expose low-income communities to marijuana use. That exposure, they argue, could exacerbate issues of health equity and negatively impact communities that already struggle with mental health or substance abuse issues.

Invoking scientific research, the statement proposed the use of a public health framework that could help prevent youth exposure to marijuana and mitigate the potential health problems that could arise with the sale of recreational marijuana.

Marijuana and THC are far more potent than ever before, with some products containing over 90% THC

Learn more about the Addiction Recovery Management Service

Learn more about the Center for Addiction Medicine

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