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Will Legal Pot Addictions Outweigh Tax Growth For Nevada?

Andrey Saprykin/iStockphoto

Nevadans will vote on legalizing recreational marijuana in November but there are still questions about the idea.

Eight months from now, Nevada residents will vote up or down to the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Some business owners will grow rich if it is legalized. But is Nevada also ready to deal with the costly consequences of treating those who become addicted to the drug?

Four states have already legalized the drug, along with Washington, D.C.

A measure to legalize it here will be on the ballot because state lawmakers refused to take a vote in 2015 after receiving a petition with 145,000 signatures supporting the idea.

But the question many have about legal pot remains: Is it good for the state, for society?

In addition, a new study suggests cases of marijuana-use disorder are growing.

Dr. Mel Pohl, medical director at the Las Vegas Recover Center, sees marijuana addiction in his clinic frequently.

To be considered addicted, people have to have two of the 11 symptoms outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Those symptoms include craving the drug, withdrawal, negative effects on personal and professional responsibilities and lack of control. 

Pohl said when addiction specialists talk about someone with a use disorder they're not talking about someone who has used the drug or even used it frequently but someone who is "using it in an unhealthy way."

“I can tell you in the clinic we see a lot of patients who are using marijuana in an unhealthy way," he said, "They are physically dependent.”

Pohl said when talking about addiction is is not a large portion of the population, but a much smaller and often vulnerable group.

“We’re talking about a percentage of people," he said, "I think it’s 8.1 percent of people who have the disease of addiction and they can become addicted to marijuana. They can become addicted to opioids. They can become addicted to alcohol or methamphetamine.”

He said there are plenty of people who have used marijuana, seen that it is negatively impacting their lives and decided to change their habits. The same with other potential problems like alcohol use or overeating, for example.

However, there are people that he says don't make that change and it creates a problem.

“There are a group of people, and that’s what we’re talking about, who get hooked on marijuana just like other potent drugs and they have dysfunction in their lives as a result of it,” Dr. Pohl said.

He expects the number of people with marijuana-use disorder to rise as the "perception of risk goes down." He said the more available pot has become the more people are using.  

“We’re going to see a rise in use and dependence on this very potent form of marijuana,” Pohl said. 

He believes the cost to treat addiction will outweigh the potential tax benefit to the state.

“I agree that the momentum is in the direction of legalization and I think it’s really going to be a destroyer of our culture,” Pohl said. 

Dr. Mel Pohl, medical director, Las Vegas Recovery Center

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.