As Maryland approaches the reality of legal recreational cannabis within hours, the transformative social and cultural change that it heralds represents several obvious societal benefits. As the motivation for the first wave of legalized cannabis in Maryland in 2014 for medical purposes, which according to a study conducted that year by Charles W. Webb, MD and Sandra M. Webb, RN, BSN for the Hawaii Journal of Medicine & Public Health and published by the National Institutes of Health, “suggest[s] that cannabis is an extremely safe and effective medication for many chronic pain patients.” Other research affirms the drug’s proficiency as a natural sleep aid.
However, the National Institutes of Health, two years later, would publish research determining that “among all individuals who lived in states with medical cannabis legislation, 17% used for medical reasons and 83% used recreationally.” In other words, five of six cannabis consumers used it for personal enjoyment.
“Nearly ten percent of Maryland adults currently use cannabis. In 2021, nine (9) percent of Maryland adults reported use of cannabis in the past month,” according to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, in a report entitled, Maryland Cannabis Use Baseline Study: March 1, 2023. By this math, roughly 370,000 residents statewide regularly consume cannabis.
Besides the apparent medicinal utility of cannabis, there is the social justice component. The virtually complete decriminalization of the substance removes a major trigger in the mass incarceration pipeline that has historically introduced juvenile African Americans to the prison system. The other positive relating to decriminalization is the prospect of expungement of records relating to arrestees’ prior convictions for street dealing cannabis.
While Marylander’s legal entitlement to cannabis is deserved and long overdue, there will be negative consequences to the mass proliferation of recreational cannabis. Evidence portending the threat to youth, particularly Baltimore City youth, resulting from weed is recorded in the Cannabis Use Baseline Study.
Rather than editorialize, for clarity of the Cannabis Commission’s findings, a complete section of their report follows:
More than 25 percent of Maryland high school students have used cannabis.
●During the 2021-2022 school year, 26 percent of high school students reported ever using cannabis. By 12th grade, nearly 40 percent of high school students tried cannabis at least once and 22 percent used an electronic vapor product to “smoke” cannabis.
● About four (4) percent of middle and 15 percent of high school students used cannabis in the prior month (i.e., current use).
● Current use was slightly higher in females than males and more than 50 percent higher in students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
● About five (5) percent of high school students tried cannabis for the first time before age 13. Age of initiation is an important measure, since early use of cannabis is associated with adverse outcomes, including problem cannabis use and addiction.
To these troubling statistics consider these further disturbing trends cited in the report: “Current cannabis use was highest in men, younger adults, those with less than a high school diploma, Black/African American residents, and residents of Baltimore City and Worcester counties.”
Removing the stigma of illegality, relaxing social acceptance, and encouraging more open casual public use of cannabis, bolstered by advertising and marketing, will certainly further expand consumption, including juveniles as the numbers predict, especially Baltimore City juveniles. In a recent editorial, The Baltimore Times examined damning student proficiency scores released by Baltimore City Public Schools.
What is the prospect for Baltimore City students currently scoring 7% and 16% proficiency respectively in math and reading when plentiful high grade legal cannabis further floods their environments with the tacit blessing of the state. Since the state of Maryland recognizes pre-legal consumption is highest among Blacks in Baltimore City, what will Annapolis do to mitigate the newest likely harm that is on its way for Baltimore’s children?
Another hazard brewing is cannabis DUI traffic stops. If state data identifies young African Americans as the most prevalent users do they become the most likely drivers stopped for suspicion? William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr, former Baltimore City Circuit Court judge and current principal at Murphy, Falcon & Murphy law firm, offers sage legal advice for driver’s charged with a cannabis DUI: “Get an attorney.”
Murphy’s associate, Greenbelt-based attorney, Lenny Stamm, takes issue with the “scientific reliability” of methods used to identify suspected impaired drivers, particularly “assessments conducted by the state’s Drug Recognition Experts.” Stamm is an author and recognized national authority in his field, conducting seminars and lecturing widely on the DUI topic.
It is imperative to monitor all the changes recreational cannabis will bring to Baltimore and Maryland. Enjoy the Fourth of July. Be careful what you pray for.