By Susan Parmelee
Since I work with youth who are struggling with marijuana addiction, I pay particular attention to Colorado, as the state is in its third year of legalized recreational marijuana. The supporters for legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado sold the voters on the benefits of tax revenue to the public schools. However, does increased school funding alleviate the impact of youth exposure to deceptive advertising and social approval of marijuana? A plant that is up to three times more potent than it was in the 1960s?
The public health detriment of normalizing the use of a substance that is harmful to youth has yet to be calculated. The industry driven commercialization gives youth the impression that using marijuana is not harmful. As youth perception of harm decreases, use increases. Following Colorado’s state constitutional change that allowed recreational marijuana, the use of marijuana among youth under the age of 21 skyrocketed to 56 percent higher than the national average for that same age group. This is particularly concerning because the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that 7 percent of the 2.4 million new marijuana users in 2014 were between the ages of 12 and 17. Additionally, research shows that regular marijuana use by youth— defined as one time a week or more—interferes with attention, motivationmemory and learning.
Since it seems likely that there will be a recreational marijuana initiative on the November ballot in California, I encourage voters to learn from the challenges Colorado has faced the past three years. Serious challenges arose due to marijuana being federally illegal and the state lacking an agency for oversight in how the marijuana industry produces products. Marijuana food and drink products are not safety wrapped or printed with a warning, and young children have mistakenly ingested toxic levels of this natural plant. The levels of THC—the psychoactive component of marijuana—are difficult to discern in many edible products. The Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that poison control calls for help with marijuana exposure are up 72 percent in the state of Colorado.
These are issues that need to be addressed before marijuana is sold openly in California. It took more than 80 years to learn the detriments of tobacco smoking on our nation’s public health, and as a nation we now spend a great deal of money on tobacco prevention programs for our youth. The tobacco industry knew and took advantage of teen brains being more prone to addiction and marketed their products to youth with the intent to create lifelong smokers. Adults with completed brain development are more likely to make educated choices about using alcohol, tobacco and medical marijuana. We owe it to our youth to educate and protect them to our best ability, while their brains continue to grow and develop.
Our community has the opportunity to hear guest speaker Ben Cort from Smart Approaches to Marijuana (www.learnaboutsam.org) at 6:30 p.m. on March 8 at the San Clemente Community Center, 100 N. Calle Seville. Mr. Cort, a highly engaging speaker, will provide community members with valuable information to guide them through this debate.
Susan Parmelee is a mental health social worker and one of the founders of the Wellness & Prevention Center, San Clemente. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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