Marijuana Legalization and Addiction Treatment Providers

Colorado has voted to legalize marijuana, but now how will that translate into day-to-day life and will it mean for addiction treatment providers? So long as the federal government defers to Colorado state law, anyone 21 and older can legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana outside of their homes. They can also grow six plants in their homes – where they can have more than an ounce if the plants are harvested. Legal possession isn’t determined by residency – when stores begin selling marijuana, which could be as soon as next year, out-of-staters can purchase it. They just can’t bring it over state borders, because similar to how alcohol or helmet laws vary from state to state, individuals are subject to state law once they leave Colorado.

Since Federal agents have a full plate, coming into Colorado to arrest someone for an ounce of marijuana is unlikely. They are more likely to have what the Governor John Hickenlooper calls “passive accommodation” over individual small-scale possession of marijuana. But as Governor cautioned voters: “Don’t break out the Cheetos or the Goldfish too quickly.” Because it will be a month or more before the law is official and even longer before state officials draft all the tax rules, regulations and state codes for Amendment 64.

While many are equating the legalization of marijuana to the end of prohibition, it is unknown how this will impact addiction treatment admission statistics. As most treatment providers know, the old adage “marijuana isn’t addictive” isn’t true. Addiction treatment centers across the US get their fair share of admissions for those seeking treatment for marijuana dependence. Even 12 step programs like Marijuana Anonymous show that there is powerlessness over the substance. In addiction recovery, no matter what the substance/drug of choice is for an addict, those that are serious about their recovery abstain from all mind and mood altering substances, including marijuana – even if it is legal. That is because a secondary drug can always lower inhibitions and lead an addict back to their drug of choice or because the biochemical makeup of an addict’s brain allows any substance to “wake the sleeping dragon” or their dormant addiction.

There are a few ways in which the legalization of marijuana can impact treatment admissions. First, because it is legal, youth may be more apt to trying it. There are a handful of reports that coin marijuana a “gateway drug,” and studies that show teens who use marijuana are more likely to end up with more substance abuse problems later in life. Second, those who are recovering from addiction to another substance may use the legalization of marijuana as a reason to use it, which can bring on a full-blown relapse. Third, while alcoholics can avoid bars or the smell of alcohol, its difficult for recovering marijuana addicts to avoid the thick mass of pot smoke – which may have a triggering effect. Lastly, those who may have never tried marijuana because it was illegal may opt into trying it and develop dependence, just as many did with alcohol after prohibition ended.

Although these are negative projections, they are important considerations for treatment providers – who may want to look into the efficacy of their current marijuana dependence programs or any special treatment protocols for marijuana addiction and incorporate them into their youth, young adult addiction treatment and adult treatment programs.

Harmony Foundation is an affordable addiction treatment center in Colorado that can help men and women recover from addictive disorders such as marijuana dependence.