Six of Vermont's largest physician organizations are urging the Legislature not to legalize marijuana this year.
They say marijuana has many harmful effects, particularly to young people, and that much more study is needed.
The groups, which include the Vermont Medical Society, the Vermont Academy of Family Physicians and the Vermont Psychiatric Association, argue that there are many serious health risks associated with marijuana. They say legalizing it sends a terrible message to young people throughout the state.
The physicians cited studies that indicate that young people who smoke marijuana on a regular basis are at a higher risk to develop mental problems and anxiety disorders.
“Even if one accepts the premise that the state of the science is somewhat unsettled, and we don't really know what the harms of cannabis might be, or how legalization might affect cannabis use,” says Dr. David Rettew, an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the UVM College of Medicine, “that sounds to me like a pretty good argument that maybe we are not ready to rush into a decision that will prove difficult if not impossible to reverse in the future."
Dr. John Porter, who represents the Vermont Medical Society, called legalization “the ultimate stamp on normalization.”
“It is a message from the elders of our society in the form of our legislators that the behavior must be safe and acceptable,” Porter says. “And we're here today because our concerns tell us just the opposite."
Matt Simon is a spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that's supporting legalization. He says research from the states that have legalized marijuana shows that the drug isn't harmful.
“The data all tells the same story: The sky hasn't fallen,” Simon says. “It will take five or 10 years to know what the long term impacts are, but a lot of people expected dramatic short-term impacts, and those simply haven't come to pass.”
And Simon says the use of marijuana by young people did not increase in Colorado after it was legalized.
"The doctors speaking today seem to think that youth use is going to skyrocket. That hasn't happened in two years of legal sales in Colorado, we don't see signs of that happening,” Simon says. “And Colorado's proactively addressing these issues through education, prevention. We could be doing a much better job of that here in Vermont through a regulated system as opposed to our current prohibition.”
The Senate Judiciary committee is scheduled to vote on a legalization bill on Friday. If it passes, the legislation will then be reviewed by several other Senate committees before it comes to the Senate floor for debate.