Medical marijuana brings opportunities, challenges to Franklin County

Last week, Columbus welcomed medical marijuana to the city. People in Central Ohio dealing with chronic pain, chemotherapy side effects, multiple sclerosis and other ailments can now visit the Terrasana Cannabis Company on Grandview Avenue to have their prescriptions filled.

With medical marijuana now a reality in Central Ohio, local counties, municipalities and school districts will have to respond to the reality of the increased prevalence and acceptance of a previously banned substance. This will lead to adjustments for local government agencies throughout Franklin County.

For instance, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one out of every six people employed in Columbus has a job in government. These governments will have to decide how to treat medicinal marijuana use off the clock, along with the increased chance of employees being high at work. Will some city departments relax standards around drug testing? What will they do for workers who want treatment but who they legitimately don't want to be intoxicated at work? These are tough questions that government managers will have to answer.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, marijuana is associated with negative health outcomes. For instance, cannabis use is substantially associated with increased risk of motor vehicle accidents. This means local police and sheriff's departments will likely have to adjust to more cases of driving under the influence on Columbus roads. This could mean new kinds of checkpoints and other enforcement initiatives to prevent mixing marijuana use and driving.

Marijuana use is also substantially associated with lower infant birth weights. This means that Columbus initiatives like CelebrateOne may need to play a part in educating at-risk families of the impacts cannabis use can have on prenatal development and infant health. This would mean public education programs or partnerships with home-visiting programs to bring this information straight to families.

The Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County (ADAMH) may have a role in educating the public on the relationship between marijuana use and development of schizophrenia and other psychoses. It also has a part to play in helping prevent problem cannabis use, to which young people, men and smokers are especially susceptible. ADAMH also might need to provide public education on how problem cannabis use develops and how to prevent it.

Lastly, Columbus and other school districts will certainly have to deal with potential for higher rates of marijuana use among both students and employees.

Medical marijuana has the promise to be a new way to help people dealing with serious medical problems. It could even be a substitute for opioid treatment for those dealing with chronic pain. At the same time, it will take adjustments from local policymakers and politicians who want to help people realize these benefits while also acknowledging the issues that come with increased marijuana prevalence.

Rob Moore is the principal for Scioto Analysis, a Columbus-based policy analysis firm.