Capitol Journal: Longtime marijuana use might make you a loser

A report on marijuana use found that 52% of middle-class frequent users “experienced downward mobility” compared to only 14% of non-users.

A report on marijuana use found that 52% of middle-class frequent users “experienced downward mobility” compared to only 14% of non-users.

(Kevin Frayer / Associated Press)

There’s a new report out on longtime marijuana use. And it’s bad news for habitual stoners.

In summary: The more pot you smoke, the more apt you are to be a loser.

And it’s not so much that losers toke weed. It’s that toking a lot of weed over several years turns someone into a loser. It’s not really a chicken or egg thing.

The UC Davis-led research, published last week, is especially relevant now. Voter signatures are being collected to place a marijuana legalization measure on the November ballot.


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Social use of marijuana — I hate the misleading adjective “recreational” — already is legal in four states: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. The verdict’s still out.

Medical use is allowed in 19 other states, including California. In this state, the well-intentioned system has been a sham for years — fake an ache and toke up — but Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature recently enacted some reforms.

Sponsors of the ballot initiative expect to turn in more than enough valid signatures — roughly 366,000 are needed — in about a month. They’re sailing smoothly.

The most outspoken advocate is Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who’s running to replace Brown in 2018. The measure’s big moneybags is Sean Parker, former Facebook president. He already has donated $1 million.

The report on persistent pot use — the product of research at several universities — took no position on the ballot proposal. “Our research does not support arguments for or against cannabis legalization,” a UC Davis news release quoted study leader Magdalena Cerda, an associate professor of emergency medicine who helps head a violence prevention program.


“But,” she added, “it does show that cannabis was not safe for long-term users….

“Our study found that regular cannabis users experienced downward social mobility and more financial problems — such as troubles with debt and cash flow — than those who did not” puff persistently.

“Regular long-term users,” Cerda continued, “also had more antisocial behaviors at work, such as stealing money or lying to get a job, and experienced more relationship problems, such as intimate partner violence and controlling abuse.”

Why wouldn’t those red flags be an argument against legalizing the drug and making it easier and more tempting — because of advertising — to consume? “There may be other reasons to legalize,” she told me in an interview. “Think about criminal convictions and lack of regulation.”

OK, about the myth of criminal convictions: Marijuana was basically decriminalized in California 40 years ago when Brown was governor the first time.

That’s when possession of one ounce of marijuana — the same amount that would be legalized under the initiative — was made a low misdemeanor. Six years ago, the penalty was reduced even further to an infraction, equivalent to a traffic ticket.


Last time I checked, only three-tenths of 1% of the total state prison population was incarcerated for any kind of marijuana offense.

But there’s no question that pot pushing on the street is unregulated. The initiative would regulate and tax weed, raising money to prevent and treat abuse. It would try to restrict non-medical sales to people 21 and older. Like with booze. But, of course, that never has stopped kids from drinking themselves silly.

“Alcohol is still a bigger problem than cannabis because alcohol use is more prevalent than cannabis use,” Cerda said in the report. “But as the legalization of cannabis increases … the economic and social burden posed by regular cannabis use could increase as well.”

“There is a common perception that cannabis is safer than alcohol,” Cerda added in an interview. “But this study shows that … cannabis is just as bad as alcohol. And in terms of financial problems, cannabis is worse.”

Why? “We don’t know. It’s something we want to look at.”

The study didn’t look into pot health risks — only at cannabis-caused economic and social problems.

While UC Davis led the project, other universities also participated. They included Duke, Arizona State, Kings College London and the University of Otago in New Zealand.


It was a group of roughly 1,000 New Zealanders who were studied over four decades — their families tracked when they were children and their cannabis habits monitored between ages 21 and 38.

How relevant are New Zealanders to Americans? “The findings were consistent with similar studies in Europe, Australia and the United States,” Cerda said.

Yes. After all, we are the same species.

“We kept cutting the data many ways,” she said, “and we kept seeing the same results over and over again.”

One especially noteworthy passage from the report: “On average, persistent cannabis users from middle-class origins attained lower adult socioeconomic status than did their parents — even after we controlled for sex, ethnicity, family substance-dependence history, childhood self-control, childhood IQ, history of psychopathology, achievement orientation and adult family structure.”

Summed up: The finger points at pot.

The report is loaded with statistics. Here’s one set: 52% of middle-class frequent marijuana users “experienced downward mobility” compared to only 14% of non-users. Conversely: 33% of non-users moved up the socioeconomic ladder, but just 7% of habitual users did.

What’s frequent? At least four times a week.

“We can all agree that abuse is a bad thing,” says Jason Kinney, spokesman for the legalization proposal. “The best way to curb abuse — prohibition is not working — is to regulate the product and educate the people.”


There was good news in the report for occasional pot smokers. Researchers didn’t find any adverse socioeconomic effects. Keep it to the weekend.

Follow @LATimesSkelton on Twitter


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