A wise pause on marijuana legalization

The state-by-state march toward marijuana legalization has run into a wall in two left-leaning states. Faced with objections from parents, teachers, police and others concerned about public safety, New Jersey and New York are poised to shelve legislation that would allow recreational pot smoking.

This pause is a good thing – and should continue for as long as it takes to fully address the real and potential dangers of marijuana use. Ten other states have already leapt ahead.

And the downsides are becoming apparent. Since Colorado legalized pot in 2014, emergency-room visits related to its use have spiked. Patients complain of repeated vomiting, racing hearts, episodes of psychosis and other symptoms – linked especially to high-potency cannabis.

On Colorado roads, the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes while under the influence of marijuana has more than doubled. That’s hardly surprising, given the evidence that marijuana impairs driving ability. Compounding the problem, tests to measure a driver’s marijuana use are imperfect and police apply them inconsistently.

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Scientists, hampered by restrictions on cannabis research, have yet to fully investigate its effects on health. But it’s known that marijuana, once smoked or eaten, acts on receptors essential to normal brain function. It impairs coordination, thinking and memory, and when used by adolescents, the cognitive effects can last for many years. Marijuana smoke irritates the lungs and speeds the heart rate. Persistent use can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, social withdrawal, depression and addiction.

Regular marijuana smokers tend to drop out of school and quit their jobs, studies show. There’s evidence as well that they become susceptible to other kinds of drug abuse and addiction.

Lawmakers in New Jersey and New York are wise to put on the brakes. They shouldn’t move forward with legalization unless and until the consequences for public health are better understood. n

Bloomberg Opinion editorial.