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The Assembly voted to expand the marijuana business even further by allowing Amsterdam-style lounges, such as the one above, that serve food and drinks along with varieties of weed. Stock photo
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Elias: Pot lounges? Why expand a destructive business?

Since California voters legalized cannabis via a 2016 ballot initiative, the weed has evolved into something like a normal business.

It’s complete with webcasts on how to operate efficiently, disputes over where to place stores and gripes about black marketeers siphoning off too much of the multi-billion-dollar take.

Now the state Assembly has decided the marijuana trade, with retail outlets in almost every corner of the state, is not yet big enough. 

The lower legislative house voted by a huge margin (49-4, with almost half its members not voting) to expand the business even further by allowing Amsterdam-style lounges that could serve food and drinks along with varieties of the weed.

The large number of non-voters (more than one-third of Assembly members) was a clear sign that many did not wish to make an enemy of the powerful pot lobby but also did not want to go on the record favoring expanded cannabis use.

Perhaps that was because polls taken as recently as last year indicate about one-third of voters here believe the pot industry has grown too large and ubiquitous.

The Assembly majority, however, wasn’t worried about that, nor is it likely the state Senate will pause very long, either. An almost identical bill passed both houses last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who cited state laws requiring smoke-free workplaces.

But there are stronger reasons than that for questioning expanded pot use in California.

For one thing, while laws control the purity of alcoholic beverages, nothing ensures the quality of marijuana.

The ill effects of cannabis use have been well known for generations: spaced-out behavior, impaired judgment, both clouded and heightened senses depending on your personal biology, a distorted sense of time, slower reactions, lower motor skills, reduced inhibitions, less mental focus and memory.

On the positive side, there’s pain reduction and better tolerance for some prescription medications and their side effects, especially among anti-cancer drugs.

But just last year, a peer-reviewed report in a journal of the American Psychiatric Association made it definite that if you want to be mentally sharp in middle age and beyond, don’t smoke pot regularly.

Concluded the report: “At age 45, people who (said they used) cannabis weekly or more frequently over the past year showed greater cognitive decline than those who never used cannabis.”

In short, if you want to avoid dementia as you age, forget the weed.

Now there’s even more bad news for frequent cannabis users, also tied to advancing age.

This time, it’s the Journal of the American Medical Association publishing a peer-reviewed Canadian study showing use of dried marijuana flowers and edible pot products by those aged 65 and up could lead to acute cannabis toxicity, causing coordination problems, muscle weakness and unsteady hands, lethargy, decreased concentration, slowed reaction time and slurred speech. 

Large doses of cannabis extracts often produced confusion, amnesia, delusions, hallucinations, anxiety and agitation.

The good news is that most episodes reported by the Sinai Health and University Health Network in Toronto were short. But long-term pot users also experienced paranoia, panic disorder and generalized fear.

That’s what you’d risk by going to newly legalized pot lounges if they were authorized in California, as the majority of legislators appears to want.

Which leads to a logical question: What are those so-called state leaders on?

The same for union leaders who moved the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Western States Council (UFCW) to back this legislation, known as AB 1775, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Matthew Haney of San Francisco.

Said John Frahm, president of UFCW’s Hayward-based Local 5, which covers most of Northern California, “We need to be doing all we can to strengthen California’s legal cannabis industry while it battles high taxation, restrictive regulations and competition from the illicit cannabis market.”

He did not explain why that’s needed, but it’s safe to say he’d like to unionize any new pot lounges legalized by AB 1775.

That might be good for the UFCW, but plainly not for the mental or physical health of pot users.

Email Thomas Elias at [email protected]. 

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