Probably of the hottest topics around dinner tables and in workplaces as we approach election season in California is the legalization of marijuana -- will California follow Colorado and Washington’s lead and legalize it for recreational use?
Wherever you fall on this issue personally, one fact remains that cannot be ignored: legalization would most likely increase youth use of the drug.
Research has demonstrated time and again that the more accessible a substance is, the more youth use it. According to a nationwide survey of young adults ages 18 to 25, children of parents who smoke marijuana are more than three times more likely to use it themselves.
Among those whose parents had used marijuana, 72% had used it also. Conversely, only 20% of those whose parents had never used marijuana reported having used marijuana themselves.
Alcohol and tobacco provide the best case studies, of course. Decades of research on these two legal substances shows that youth usage rates are considerably higher in places where there is easier access for adults (in the form of more stores selling the products, for example), despite the age restrictions that are supposedly in place.
Most people say ‘yes’ to legalization without thinking about the consequences of a powerful and financially-motivated marijuana industry. What about the inevitable proliferation of marijuana dispensaries throughout our communities? What about the potential of marijuana advertising in print, on billboards, and online? What about public use? Of course, there will be efforts to regulate all of it, but there is no denying that once the vast mechanism of a ‘Big Marijuana’ industry is in place, our communities will be much more saturated.
We cannot underestimate the impact this will have on the teens and youth around us. What is viewed as ‘socially normative’ deeply influences young people. If teens are inundated with marijuana messages and imagery, or, if they’re regularly seeing the adults in their lives smoking pot, they’re more likely to do the same – three times more likely, according to the research.
All of this matters, of course, because marijuana use hurts youth – more so than it does adults. Research shows that marijuana has significant detrimental cognitive effects on the developing brain. Youth can’t regularly use marijuana without long-term consequences.
For these reasons, I am very concerned about the impact legalization of marijuana would have on (community’s) youth. I believe strongly that it is our duty as adults to protect our kids from harm. I hope you feel the same.
If we don’t protect our children, who will?