As states continue to legalize marijuana, it is “crucial” that cannabis products are regulated, a top federal health official says.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow said that while it might be “ideal” if states slowed down on enacting reform, the fact is that “states are legalizing it,” and “what we need to understand right now is what is it that we can do to minimize harmful effects.”
“That means, among other things, regulating the products that are being sold [and] educating the public about the adverse effects,” Volkow told Fox News on Wednesday. “I think that is crucial because, as you know, the majority of the states in the United States have legalized either recreational or medical marijuana.”
The official’s comments are notable because, while she didn’t explicitly call for federal legalization, such a policy change would be necessary in order to nationally impose regulations on cannabis sales and products across state markets.
Watch the NIDA director discuss marijuana policy in the video below:
Volkow also discussed recent research looking at a possible link between marijuana use and increased risk of psychosis, saying, “unfortunately, marijuana is not as benign as we would like it to be—because it would be great if it was a very safe drug.”
While the official warned about the possible risk of heavy use of highly potent marijuana products, she said in 2021 that she’s yet to see evidence that occasional marijuana use by adults is harmful.
In terms of regulations, several congressional legalization bills have been introduced in recent sessions but they have not been enacted. The result has been a patchwork of regulatory models at the state level.
Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.
Meanwhile, Volkow separately told a Senate committee this month that there is emerging evidence that psychedelics carry “significant potential” as therapeutic treatments for certain mental health conditions, and it’s a topic of “great interest” for researchers.
The director has also become a vocal critic of drug criminalization overall in the past several years, noting racial disparities in enforcement and the ineffectiveness of treating addiction as criminal, rather than public health, matter.
Drug criminalization has “created a structurally racist system” in which Black people are treated “worse” than others, the official said in an interview late last year.
She also talked about the relationship between racial prejudice and drug criminalization in 2021, saying the U.S. is “currently reckoning with a long history of discriminatory and racist policies, many of which still continue today.”
Last year, Volkow said in a blog post that there’s an urgent need to reshape addiction treatment, specifically by putting more resources towards identifying “pre-addiction” to get people help before the disease.