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Message from the CMS President

Legal Cannabis:  The Next Crisis

ILLINOIS HAS joined a handful of states in passing legislation to legalize recreational marijuana. Sponsors of the “Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act” argue that many  people already smoke weed, and the law will protect them by curtailing the black market of unsafe products and reduce criminal activity. Regulation also promises new revenue for state and local coffers, and a gold rush for the cannabis industry, creating jobs and more. Backers also tout marijuana as a safer alternative to opioid medication. Finally, supporters cite a 2017 public opinion poll that found threefourths of Illinois residents would back legalization if cannabis is taxed and regulated like alcohol.

As medical professionals, we know a lot more about alcohol than we do about cannabis. And we all remember that when powerful opioid painkillers first came out, physicians were assured these addictive medications were safe for use in our patients. As with the opioid crisis, it’s unclear what the unintended consequences might be.

Given the lack of scientific data, the Chicago Medical Society opted to take a neutral position on the legislation. In an ideal world, the rush to approve recreational cannabis would have been slowed. But given the unstoppable momentum, how do we ensure the safety and well-being of our patients?

Your Chicago Medical Society is working with members of Congress who plan to introduce legislation that removes federal restrictions on cannabis research. The longstanding federal prohibition has impeded well-controlled clinical trials on THC’s safety and potential effectiveness, as commonly done for other drugs.

And at the local level, we’re engaging lawmakers, so we have a role in shaping the law’s implementation.

I’ve heard from many of you in recent weeks on the issue. Some of you view it more benignly or even believe cannabis may have therapeutic value in select patients. Others are fiercely opposed, such as those who treat patients in the ER or in mental health settings.

A member recently wrote that Illinois’ new legislation “absolutely undermines any work to reduce addiction, especially in adolescents.” The physician member predicts it “will lead to increased cannabis use along with an increased intensity of use in adolescents, increased adverse effects in pregnancy, a probable increase in SIDS, and increased admissions to emergency and critical care units.” Adding to this toll is the collateral damage of cannabis intoxication, such as accidents, adverse mental health issues, including psychosis, the member wrote.

There’s already evidence that short-term marijuana use impairs memory, and that long-term or heavy use can lead to altered brain development and even lower IQ among adolescents.

As physicians we take the Hippocratic Oath. Guiding our patients in an evidencebased manner requires high-quality research to better understand the balance of risk and potential benefit of any drug, including marijuana.

Please join your Chicago Medical Society as we advocate for scientific inquiry on the short- and long-term health impact of cannabis. And do share your voice as we engage with lawmakers to shape processes and policy.

A. Jay Chauhan, DO, FAOCO

President, Chicago Medical Society

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