In news that will surprise nobody but the most pot-addled stoner, places with more medicinal marijuana dispensaries also see more cannabis-related hospitalizations.
New research into the community effects of marijuana dispensaries in California shows that “an additional one dispensary per square mile in a ZIP code was cross-sectionally associated with a 6.8% increase in the number of marijuana hospitalizations.”
There are a few problems with the research’s conclusions, however.
The study cites figures that “hospitalizations with marijuana abuse or dependence codes increased from 17,469 in 2001 to 68,408 in 2012.” This jibes with the passing of Proposition 36) in 2000, which decriminalized marijuana in California (possession of small amounts became an infraction in 2011).
But the study, by Christina Mair and team at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, found that data from hospital discharges in California showed that:
More than 85 percent of marijuana-related hospitalizations were coded as abuse, rather than dependence, and 99.2 percent were secondary codes, meaning the person was primarily hospitalized for something other than marijuana.
That is to say, only 0.8 percent of these hospitalizations were actually for marijuana use. It gets worse:
In addition, Dr. Mair and her team found that marijuana dispensaries and hospitalizations were more likely to be located in areas with lower household incomes and lower educational attainment.
“It’s unclear if the marijuana dispensaries are simply locating in neighborhoods that tend to be more disadvantaged and already have underlying problems with marijuana abuse,” says Mair, “or if the presence of the dispensaries is causing an increase in abuse and hospitalizations.”
That availability leads to increased use should surprise nobody. Alcohol is one of our most dangerous drugs, and thanks to almost universal availability it is also one of the most abused. But perhaps a more interesting study would investigate the differences in the causes of hospitalization between those admitted for booze and those admitted for pot.