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Recently, State Rep. Jim Lucas told an Indianapolis radio station that Indiana should be embarrassed because we have not legalized recreational marijuana. He added, “We have to be intellectually honest and quit relying on decades of stigma, fearmongering and just outright lies on this issue.” He then encouraged listeners to look at the use of marijuana to combat opioid abuse.

The fact of the matter is that scientific research on marijuana is neither old nor fear-based. In 2017, the American Journal of Psychiatry released a major paper following 33,000 people. The study showed that cannabis use increased the risk of non-medical prescription opioid use disorder. In January 2017, Pain Medicine reported that patients using cannabis and opioids concurrently have a higher risk for opioid misuse.

When it comes to curbing the opioid epidemic, it isn’t happening in Colorado, which allowed recreational use of marijuana in 2013. In 2017, they had a record year for opioid overdose deaths. As Dr. Kenneth Finn, a board certified expert in pain medicine and rehabilitation in Colorado wrote in response to this claim, “Marijuana is not helping the opioid epidemic, and the science demonstrates it may be contributing to the opioid epidemic … . Marijuana is a companion drug rather than a substitute, and (it) is contributing to the opioid epidemic in Colorado.”

Many studies have confirmed that states with the highest rates of marijuana use among the young are those that have legalized the drug. A 2017 report “Legal Marijuana and Youth: New Evidence” by David Murray of the Hudson Institute concludes, "Medical-marijuana laws amplify rates of youth marijuana use, arguably because they allay social stigma and placate fear of a negative health outcome.”

A 2012 paper appearing in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that youth who smoke marijuana were more than twice as likely to abuse prescription medicines as those who don’t.

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In 2004, The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most respected peer-reviewed medical Journals, noted that students who smoke marijuana have poorer educational outcomes. Data from a longitudinal survey of 1,392 adolescents aged 16-18 years concluded that the odds of marijuana users dropping out of high school is nearly 2.5 times that of non-users.

Marijuana is now the No. 1 reason for student expulsions in Colorado. It is also now the No. 1 illicit substance found in Colorado suicides among children ages 10-19. In September 2014, The Lancet found that consistent use of marijuana below the age of 18 is connected with a seven times higher risk of attempted suicide.

In 2009, marijuana-related traffic deaths represented 10% of all traffic fatalities in Colorado. By 2015, that number had doubled to 21%. In the first year after Washington state’s legalization, marijuana-impaired drivers increased 50%. They now lead the nation in stoned drivers, with 27% of their fatal accidents caused by drivers using marijuana.

G.K. Chesterton once advised, “Don’t take a fence down before you know why it was put up.” Indiana already has enough challenges without adding more addictions, more suicides, educational decline or more traffic accidents into the mix. There is nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to avoiding the problems that come with marijuana.

Micah Clark is the executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana. The opinions are the writer's.

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