Neuroscientist adds voice to warnings about legal pot


Dr. Bertha Madras, a neuroscientist from Harvard Medical School, speaks at a news conference Wednesday at the Statehouse about the medical arguments against legalizing marijuana. Photo by Jasper Craven/VTDigger

Opponents of legalizing marijuana gathered under the Statehouse dome Wednesday for Prevention Awareness Day, holding workshops and discussions regarding substance abuse and the possible impacts of legal weed in the Green Mountain State.

The events were organized by Prevention Works VT, a coalition aimed at reducing drug and alcohol abuse among young people.

Dr. Bertha Madras, a neuroscientist from Harvard Medical School, was given an award for her prevention efforts, and she offered her own thoughts against legalization in a news conference.

Portraying Vermont as being at a crossroads over whether to legalize and normalize cannabis use, Madras said political talks on the issue have been devoid of scientific considerations.

“On one side it’s led by a number of talking points, (and) the certain suppression of scientific information,” Madras said. “On the other side it’s led by scientific evidence, as well as global concerns about the legalization movement.”

“Vermont has a choice to make,” she added. “And the choice should be decided primarily, and almost specifically, on the basis of what is best for public health.”

Madras pointed to research showing adverse impacts on brain development for young marijuana users and said potential tax money aimed at improving social and medical conditions for drug users would not be enough to contain the public health fallout from an increase in use.

She said Senate bills aimed at keeping marijuana out of the hands of those under 21 would not work, pointing to Colorado, a legal weed zone that ranks No. 1 for pot use among young people ages 12 to 17.

“To conceive of a law that is going to restrict it to 21 and older is unrealistic, and it’s not going to work,” Madras said. “It hasn’t worked for tobacco, it hasn’t worked for alcohol, it’s not going to work for marijuana.”

She echoed a number of public health concerns expressed by the Vermont Department of Health, including that marijuana impairs social functions and may increase psychotic symptoms.

Madras acknowledged, as did the state, that some of the research on the impacts of marijuana is not entirely sound.

Prevention Works VT is one of a number of groups lobbying for and against legalization, including Smart Approaches to Marijuana-VT and the Marijuana Policy Project.

As part of its lobbying efforts, the Marijuana Policy Project released an ad against marijuana prohibition that has been playing on regional TV stations.

While Madras spoke about the dangers of increased drug access in Vermont, political leaders in both parties appear to be open to legalization in Vermont.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on a bipartisan marijuana bill Friday, and a majority of members seemed poised to support it.

Details are still being hammered out, and Gov. Peter Shumlin put his stamp of approval Tuesday on a proposal for a modified marijuana bill from Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington.

Sears asked the committee — and later, a Democratic caucus — to modify the bill co-sponsored by Sens. Jeanette White, D-Windham, and Joe Benning, R-Caledonia.

Sears suggested adding language that would move a quarter of the tax money brought in by legal pot to the state’s general fund; bar people from growing the plant at home; and beef up penalties for adults who sell the drug to minors.

“I’ve never supported homegrown, indoor grown,” Shumlin said Tuesday, in accordance with Sears’ request. “I think as the bill travels, there’s a conversation about whether you have a plant or two in your garden, during grow months, where you’re not facing all the indoor growing problems the state is facing, all sorts of mold problems, all kinds of problems. I’m willing to listen to that debate.”

If approved by Judiciary, the marijuana bill would go to the Senate Finance Committee, where pro-legalization Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, is the chairman.

Jasper Craven

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  • Sean Joyce

    Someday the most useful plant on the planet will be free to grow for victory again and so too will the middle class.

  • Paul O’Day

    ““On one side it’s led by a number of talking points, (and) the certain suppression of scientific information,” Madras said. “On the other side it’s led by scientific evidence, as well as global concerns about the legalization movement.””

    That’s rich – the prohibitionists have spent 80 years preventing scientific research of cannabis, botching it wildly, and in many cases deliberately and fraudulently producing false results for propaganda purposes.

    ““To conceive of a law that is going to restrict it to 21 and older is unrealistic, and it’s not going to work,” Madras said.”

    That’s right. Laws prohibiting substances don’t work. So why bother having such laws? To selectively enforce them against races you don’t like? To feel like you’ve done something?

    “Madras acknowledged, as did the state, that some of the research on the impacts of marijuana is not entirely sound.”

    Oh, really? Tell me more.

  • Jason Wells

    While kids for the most part are gonna get pot weather it is legal or not this bill in it’s current form is so bad I hope they parade every anti pot advocate in New England they can find to kill it. As another here put it it’s “crony cannabis” pure and simple! It really hurts to say that as I want legalization very badly.

  • michael olcott

    “Madras said political talks on the issue have been devoid of scientific considerations.” well gosh,maybe that would be due to the us government restricting any beneficial information and generally only approving research that supports negative outcomes. look we are not talking about legalizing drug use for kids and young adults; so stop the cowardly practice of using our children as human shields. will they have increased chances to acquire cannabis? sure when anything is moved into the legal marketplace then there is that chance. However it is already easier than alcohol for teens to get. so a complete prohibition on it has failed miserably. speaking of failed policies; by not allowing homegrown in small quantities you will STILL have a black market,thus forcing LE to waste resources that could and SHOULD be directed at problems that truly pose a threat to our property and lives. The only indoor grow problems that i know are people getting their homes and property raided because of a policy that was based on lies,greed and tbh racist power brokers that saw hemp and cannabis as a threat to TPTB of the day. apparently not much has changed in today’s world except we the people have seen the evidence for our selves and have changed our views. Now we are demanding our elected public servants allow this in our state. if we are not intelligent and responsible enough to make our own choices about what drugs we consume then we are not intelligent enough to send the right people to the capital to do our will either.

    • Walter Carpenter

      “The only indoor grow problems that i know are people getting their homes and property raided because of a policy that was based on lies,greed and the racist power brokers that saw hemp and cannabis as a threat to TPTB of the day.”

      This is right on and cannot be emphasized enough. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have gone to jail for a policy based on “lies, greed, and the racist power brokers.” We are still suffering for them.

  • Paul Richards

    Legalizing pot just for the sake of political points and a few unsustainable tax dollars is not worth the adverse health implications. These politicians are like crack addicts; they just can’t pass up the folly of new money to spend as they wish. They can kick the can to the next bunch to occupy the crack house in Montpelier.

  • Rick Cowan

    So Dr. Madras believes that Vermonters are less responsible and intelligent than folks in Colorado, DC, Washington State & Alaska where they somehow managed to legalize cannabis without the sky falling…. By her logic, we should immediately outlaw the vastly more dangerous drug, alcohol. But wait, we tried that once and it didn’t work. Just as the current cannabis prohibitions don’t work. Do we want to support criminal importers or create a new clean industry to provide jobs for Vermont’s capable horticulturalists?

  • Robert Shaffer

    World renowned neurosurgeon and professor Dr. Sanjay Gupta has a few opinions as well.

    “We should legalize medical marijuana,””We should do it nationally. And, we should do it now

    Dr. Sanjay Gupta: It’s time for a medical marijuana revolution

  • Bob Stannard

    Dr. Madras is concerned about kids 12-17 smoking pot. Great. She should be. And so is everyone else, which is exactly why the advocates for legalization want it legalized and regulated.

    Does she think that Sen. Dick Sears; a man who has dedicated his life to working with kids doesn’t share her concerns? To think that kids are not going to sneak a beer, a cigarette or legal pot is naive. They are, but here’s the counter argument; today kids can get pot as easily as buying groceries from people who could care less about the kid’s health. A regulate selling would be a lot more concerned and careful. Duh.

    Prohibition has never worked. It’s time the kids who are now adults be given the responsibility of managing a fairly innocuous plant.

  • David R. Black

    Vermont needs $$$$. Keep pot illegal and enforce the law. Increase the fine and if necessary add community service to the charge. Everyone says that people are going to do it, so why not take advantage of the situation and win on both fronts.

  • Rich Lachapelle

    Legalized, decriminalized or neither, people including teens are going to seek mind-altering substances and have since the dawn of history. To recently hear a cadre of physicians preaching the armageddon about legalization in Vermont makes me wonder if any of these physicians can claim that they have never been responsible for a patient’s recreational drug use or addiction inadvertently by their prescribing practices. The current conventional wisdom in Vermont is that a significant number of opioid addicts claim to trace their problem to legally-prescribed painkillers, often given out in amounts way beyond what most people would consider reasonable. From personal experience, I can say that 40 percocets is way over the top for a couple of extracted teeth. Vermont’s “junkie apocalypse” can be said to be the result of political (or medical) correctness where a doctor would fear being looked upon as insensitive to the pain of their patient and would feel pressured to prescribe either too many or too powerful of a painkiller where not warranted. The oath taken by physicians includes the concept of “first do no harm”, and there are different ways of interpreting that.

    • Joyce Hottenstein

      Actually when the legislature was considering medical malpractice reform that was one of the issues. Docs didn’t care about how patients looked upon them, they cared whether or not they would be sued because they seemed to not care. Shumlin said nothing to see here and reform did not take place. When Dr Chau (sp?) Published his findings re. Single payer medical malpractice was a requirement to save money. Our system is not set up to do no harm because it depends on your point of view of what harm is. There isn’t a single payer system on the planet that does not protect doctors, except for the one Shumlin proposed and is still dying to implement.

  • Kathleen Lippitt, MPH

    For those critical of the expertise or opinions of Bertha Madras please consider her background and compare it with your qualifications and expertise:

    Research Associate at MIT, Asst Prof at Dep of Pharmacology and Psychiatry at U. of Toronto, Prof of Psychobiology at Harvard Medical School Dep of Psychiatry,

    Founded and Chaired Div. of Neurochemistry at Harvard Medical School, Course Director of the Advanced Biomedical Sciences: Substance abuse and addictive processes course on addictions. She has spent years studying abuse and addiction and studying how psychoactive and therapeutic drugs affect the brain (including cocaine, ecstasy or MDMA,methamphetamine, marijuana’s active constituent THC, other cannabinoids, anti-psychotic, antiepileptic, anti-hyperactivity, and anti-narcoleptic drugs) and in development of medications and brain imaging probes.

    She was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy in Biochemistry (metabolism and pharmacology, including hallucinogens such as LSD, psilocybin) from McGill University.

    She was awarded post doctoral fellowships at the Dep of Biology at MIT, the Dep of Biochemistry at Tufts University, and at Cornell University Medical College

    She researched and laid the groundwork for the development of a widely used anti-cancer (lymphoblastic leukemia) drug, asparaginase.

    She founded and chaired the University of Toronto, Faculty of Medicine’s Neuroscience course and program committee.

    She was nominated and confirmed unanimously by the President of the United States to be the Deputy Director for Demand Reduction (prevention, intervention, treatment) for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (“ONDCP”).

    She spearheaded expansion of alcohol and drug screening, brief intervention and referral to treatment (SBIRT) services, and

    She generated the first publication of official SBIRT effectiveness data, gleaned from more than 450,000 subjects.

    Her opinions are based in science, and reflect 50 years of education, research, and experience in the relevant area especially areas of abuse and addiction the affects of psychoactive and therapeutic drugs on the brain (including cocaine, ecstasy or MDMA,methamphetamine, marijuana’s active constituent THC, other cannabinoids, anti-psychotic, antiepileptic, anti-hyperactivity, and anti-narcoleptic drugs) and in development of medications and brain imaging probes, molecular and behavioral effects of THC and psychostimulant drugs on adolescent and adult brain. A brain imaging drug I invented with collaborators was evaluated through the FDA process.

    She has served on more than 50 National Institutes of Health (NIH) committees and other government and private sector advisory boards, a reflection of my expertise in neurobiology, brain imaging, addictions, analysis of study design, and the validity of scientific data

    She has published more than 140 scientific articles and book chapters in my area of research. Several include studies of cannabinoid and dopamine receptor agonists and their synergistic sedative effects in nonhuman primates, and cannabinoid receptor agonist and antagonist effects on motor function in a nonhuman primate model of Parkinson’s disease.

    She holds 19 patents, for novel medications, and for a class of agents that image dopamine brain cells affected by addictive drugs. This invention was recently highlighted in the Better World Report as one of 25 technology transfer innovations that changed the world. 10. I am honored to be the recipient of the Marion W. Fischman lectureship award by the College on Problems of Drug Dependence for “outstanding woman scientist in drug abuse research,” the Founders Award of the American Association of Addiction Psychiatry, a NIDA Public Service Award, a MERIT award from NIDA-NIH,

    She is not employed by the Department of Justice, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), or any other federal office or agency. She is supremely qualified in commenting on marijuana’s effects, the potential (or lack thereof) of isolated cannabinoids as medicine, and the adverse effects of marijuana use.

    • Jason Wells

      Nice try but no one here is discounting the fact that using pot can harm children no one at all. And no one is discounting her skills, training or experiences. Although I am curious about the LSD part at Mcgill University as it is my understanding that the only legitimate research that has been done with that was only in the past few years namely at an Indiana University as well as in Switzerland in any event good for her though as that substance (MDMA as well) has shown promise for alcoholics and other mental conditions. But to get back on track here again no one wants kids to be using pot. A better tact maybe to work with parents to better monitor their children instead of trying to prevent adults from doing as they wish with their bodies!

    • Sean Joyce

      NIDA-NIH have stonewalled any beneficial studies of cannabis and have funded almost exclusively studies that paint cannabis negatively. How much is “Addicition” treatment and testing worth?

    • Joe McSherry

      As noted she is employed by the ONDCP. Harvard, MIT etc just cover for the ONDCP propaganda machine.

  • It up to parent(s) to prevent their kids from marijuana use, the same as it is for alcohol and tobacco. Not force restrictions on the rest of us. As long as they don’t drive, adults should be able to enjoy pot, same as alcohol, especially in the privacy of their own home. Unless there is a draconian enforcement policy, it will happen anyway.

    • Robert Joseph

      While I agree 100%, this bill is not about “what an adult can do in the privacy of their own home”. You still can’t grow your own. They don’t care about individual freedom.

      The legislature sees this as an untapped revenue stream. The cure for years of budget woes. Which will come up short…like every other idea these idiots think up.

      Those of us that have been around for a few election cycles know the real truth. No matter what they tell you….it’s always about controlling Vermonters.

      • I think “homegrown” will eventually be legal..hopefully sooner than later.

      • samuel shultis

        For the 2016 Vermont budget the following is listed – $4.67B est. income v. $7.29B est. spending
        How much longer till Vermonters understand that the current régime has to be run out on a rail. Not a one of them could run their homes with this form of unsustainable ‘budgeting’ . Looking at the top five states with regard to budget excellence you’ll find that they are all Republican run. The five worse? you guessed it – all ‘run’ by democrats …. cities are the same too!

  • Chasity Williams

    They did a recording of her evening speech that will be online soon, I assume it will be on Montpelier’s public access channel. Her presentation was defiantly worth watching. She is not rude about what side you choose to be on, she wants people to have as much scientific knowledge they can when they make their decision.

  • Steve Merrill

    What studies are these folks reading? I wonder if Dr. Martha would have the courage to Google “US Patent 6630507” and read the beneficial aspects of this plant, so much so that this Pharma Company would ask the United States for a patent? Anyone can google this patent, then there are about 30 or more links to the studies, she should read them vs. the NIDA steeds by shills for prohibitionists. SM, N. Troy

  • Eddie Fisher

    Gov. Shumlin says he doesn’t understand why the state police come on to pot so much saying, ” The sky is falling “,…….. Here’s a couple of reasons , Governor Shumlin , Domestic Violence , alcohol addictions , gateway youth activities , prescription drug abuses ,Public health , college partying , campus date rape ,driving under the influence and the inability to control all of these Where doesn’t it lead or what doesn’t it effect ? Maybe it’s long past time for a new leadership ?

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