Back in 2016, California’s Proposition 64 made recreational cannabis legal for people over 21. It also required the state to create public education about the health risks of the drug.
That education emerged this month in the online “Let’s Talk Cannabis” campaign. It’s a new project of the California Department of Public health that aims to bust the myth that cannabis is always safe.
“We’ve done a great job with getting kids to recognize that there’s real risk associated with smoking and direct risks to their health,” says department director Dr. Karen Smith. “At the same time, the perception of risk for cannabis has been decreasing over time.”
There are a couple of health hazards associated with pot. Consuming it while pregnant or breastfeeding can cause brain damage and low birth weight. Teenage users can suffer memory and attention problems. Marijuana also increases risk for anxiety, depression and schizophrenia, according to the campaign.
Public health experts put the roll-out of legal marijuana on the same level as alcohol, tobacco, or sugary drinks. It’s a legal substance with documented health hazards. And it can be especially dangerous if marketed for kids.
“It is important for public health that marijuana legalization be cautious, and not lead to an unfettered commercial free-for-all,” says Dr. Lynn Silver, a senior advisor at the Oakland nonprofit Public Health Institute. “Marijuana, while it should be legal, is not good for you and has some very serious health consequences.”
She recently launched her own campaign, “Getting it Right from the Start”, that she hopes will be a model for cities and counties all over the state to follow once commercial sale of recreational cannabis becomes legal in 2018.
She says there isn’t a lot of information right now about how local jurisdictions can regulate non-medical cannabis. They theoretically have control over a lot of things - where dispensaries get set up, what they can sell, how they can market marijuana products, and what if anything they should tax.
“Pop tarts, lollipops, granola bars - (legalization) is really bringing the flourishing creativity of American entrepreneurship to expanding consumption of this product, and that’s not a good thing,” Lynn says. “I don't think we want anyone going to jail for marijuana, but we also don’t want marijuana to be the greatest thing since sliced bread.”
The Let’s Talk Cannabis campaign can be viewed at cdph.ca.gov