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Pot's Social Dangers Unknown, Say Researchers

Little Evidence That Marijuana Causes Behavioral Problems, Study Shows

Relaxed Laws Elsewhere continued...

In the U.S., where some 700,000 arrests are made each year for marijuana use and possession, the debate on its impact continues.

Two weeks ago, federal health officials reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association that over the past decade, more American adults have abused or become dependent on pot even though overall use rates have remained steady. "The resultsof this study underscore the need to develop and implement newprevention and intervention programs targeted at youth, particularlyminority youth," write researchers from the National Institutes of Health.

That same week, another study in the American Journal of Public Health reported that neither the severity nor leniency of current marijuana laws seems to influence whether experienced users continue to smoke pot.

States vs. Feds

Other countries have decriminalized marijuana largely because studies show that its use can reduce chronic pain, nausea, and muscle spasms and lower rising eye pressure that causes glaucoma. Marijuana has been used -- legally or not -- to treat some 30 conditions, including AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. In fact, until the 1930s, marijuana was legally available in the U.S. as a medicinal treatment.

Nine U.S. states have laws allowing for the use of medical marijuana under a doctor's recommendation -- Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. But the Justice Department contends that federal drug laws that make its use and possession illegal take precedent over state laws.

Last month, officials from two state medical boards were accused by a House Criminal Justice subcommittee of ignoring federal drug laws in favor of their state's statutes by allowing doctors to promote the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, despite a potential for abuse.

Weeks later, a judge ruled that federal prosecutions of medical marijuana users in permitting states are unconstitutional if the pot isn't sold, transported across state lines, or used for non-medicinal purposes. The judge ordered the federal government to stop prosecuting a sick California woman smoking pot under doctor's orders, and not to raid or prosecute a group in that state -- where medical marijuana use is allowed -- that grows and distributes it to patients.

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