Part 1: The Effect of Marijuana Legalization
Soundbite: It was a devastating scene on Interstate 880 in Fremont. Five mangled cars, three people dead, one driver under arrest. 21-year-old Dang Tran is in jail, suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana.
Narration: This is not the only major traffic accident induced by marijuana a year into its legalization in California.
Narration: On the morning of Dec. 2, 2017, a truck crashed into the San Francisco Bay Bridge toll station, killing the toll collector. The California Highway Patrol said they smelled marijuana and alcohol on the driver.
Narration: On Christmas Eve the same year, California Highway Patrol officer Andrew Camilleri died when a car rear-ended him going over 100 miles per hour on I-880. The driver later admitted being under the influence of marijuana.
Ross Lee: I believe the number was, at least in the Bay area, not statewide, but the number of arrests that were made in a number of months, and I believe it was maybe six or seven months, the number of arrests that had gone up for marijuana-related arrests while driving in a vehicle had gone up somewhere close to 70 percent, which is substantial, it’s a significant number.
Narration: It’s a common conception that marijuana makes a driver calm and relaxed. But what it actually does to the human body remains uncertain. According to the FDA, although chemicals in marijuana have led to two FDA-approved medications in pill form, the marijuana plant is not an FDA-approved medicine. Researchers haven’t conducted even large-scale clinical trials to show that benefits of the marijuana plant outweigh its risks to patients.
Narration: Dr. Christy Brown, a retired Mission College professor in Santa Clara, has experienced the risks first-hand. Her 26-year-old son started using the substance when he was 14.
Christy Brown: I found out that it wasn’t just that he was using it once in a while, he was using it every day. He was using it before he went to school, and I didn’t know that. He would appear to be like okay, but then when I would go pick him up at school—this is before he got his driver’s license—I would say, “What did you do in your class?” He couldn’t remember. And I found out later, it was a couple of years later, he told me he had been using it before he was in class, and he wasn’t really paying attention in class. And then he would have to call his friends to find out what his assignment was for homework. So I am a teacher, and I basically tried to help him with his assignments when he had problems, but I noticed he wouldn’t have any focus on his assignment. He couldn’t keep his attention.
Narration: The symptoms Dr. Brown describes can be explained scientifically. Dr. Evelyn Li, a cardiologist at the Asian Medical Clinic, showed us the difference between a normal brain and a substance-impaired brain.
Dr. Evelyn Li: This is a normal brain, shooting from the top, and this is from the bottom to the top. As if looking from the bottom of a human being to the top. As you can see, if you drink alcohol, you start having holes in the brain. Holes in the brain means that those cells are dead. Dead, no longer alive. So you see holes in the brain. Like, this is normal, you see no holes here. You see a lot of holes here for people [who] use just three years of cocaine. You see a lot of holes here. And this is methamphetamine. Okay, you got holes here. And this is marijuana. You see a lot of holes. A lot of holes with marijuana. This is for two years, age of 16. There are a lot of cells that are dead. Yeah, they are dead.
Dr. Evelyn Li: What it does is that it affects the frontal lobe and hippocampus. The frontal lobe is where people use it for creativities, for social interactions. The hippocampus is for memory. And so people who use this drug will be affected by how they react.
Narration: As of April 2018, four months since California began issuing temporary state licenses to cannabis operators, there are nearly 6,000 licensed cannabis businesses in the state. California is the first state in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana use.
Narration: Coming up, all licensed retailers and individuals are only permitted to sell cannabis to adults 21 and older, but rampant marijuana use is present on middle school and high school campuses. Stay tuned to find out how this happened.