Legalization of Marijuana and the ACA

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Recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado in 2014, and legalization in Washington is not far behind. Legalization of recreational marijuana coincides with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010. In January 2014, during an interview with the New Yorker President Obama stated his support for legalization because of the disparate impact on minorities for minor drug crimes.  “It was important to let [legalization of recreational marijuana use] go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished..”

The ACA’s goal is to improve access to care for the uninsurable, who did not have access to care because their employer did not offer coverage or a health condition made coverage unaffordable. Additionally, large employers are now required to offer affordable employer sponsored health insurance or face financial penalties, and employers of all sizes can penalize employees up to 30% of premiums for failure to adopt a healthy lifestyle and an additional 20% for tobacco usage via a health contingent wellness program.

The First Lady, Michelle Obama, has made promoting healthy eating and exercise a goal during her time in the White House, and New York City attempted to ban the sale of large sugary beverages. Reconciling these efforts and the passage of the ACA with the legalization of recreational marijuana use is difficult. The politics of marijuana legalization can be debated but its detrimental health effects cannot. If a population spending less on healthcare by leading healthier lifestyles is the goal, legalizing recreational marijuana seems like a step in the wrong direction.

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