Marijuana Legalization: Sending Youth the Wrong Message

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Article Contributed by
Chautauqua Alcohol & Substance Abuse Council

As the county’s only alcohol & other substance abuse prevention provider, it is Chautauqua Alcohol & Substance Abuse Council’s (CASAC’s) responsibility to bring awareness and educate the community on the effects of marijuana use, especially when it concerns youth.  CASAC opposes the legalization of marijuana for recreational use which would result in an increase of access, availability and use of the drug among adolescents.   

Marijuana interferes with brain development and exacerbates mental health conditions.  The developing adolescent brain is not matured until well beyond early twenties.  Early use of marijuana can alter the structure and function of the brain, harm learning, critical thinking and memory development and contribute to mental health issues, not to mention medical problems.    

Legalizing marijuana is expected to increase the number of people who use the drug, it is also likely to increase the number of people who develop a marijuana use disorder.  Adolescents are more vulnerable to dependency on marijuana, therefore prevention of early onset of use is critical for our youth and our community.  Contrary to many reports from lobbyists, marijuana use among adolescents has increased in Colorado since it was legalized.  According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Colorado now leads the nation in the percentage of 12-17 year olds who have tried marijuana for the first time (NSDUH, State Estimates, 2017).  

The very act of legalizing marijuana sends a message that the drug is safe and socially acceptable to use.  This shift in cultural norms puts adolescents in particular at risk.  Legalizing marijuana would reduce student’s perception of its harm.  Currently, 75% of students in Chautauqua County claim their friends would think it is wrong to smoke marijuana.  Legalizing marijuana would reduce this number.  Data from decades of survey research indicates that decreased perceptions of harm are strongly associated with increased rates of adolescent use.    

Legalizing marijuana will also lead to growth of a commercial marijuana industry, which will encourage and promote marijuana use, often times targeting youth.  Tobacco and alcohol industries target youth in many advertisements, providing innovated marketing techniques to increase one’s consumer base.  The alcohol industry garners roughly half of its profits from underage and excessive drinking.  The same is expected for the marijuana industry.  Promotion of edible products have been a concern for states that have legalized it, which included gummies, cookies, brownies and other items often consumed by youth.  As the edibles increased with the community, so did public health concerns on overconsumption, accidental ingestion, pesticide residues, and consistency concerns with the potency of THC.  The average THC content confiscated, which is the psychoactive substance in marijuana has increased over the years from approximately 3% in 1995 to about 13%.  

Research on the health and safety effects of marijuana shows that it strongly correlates with many mental, emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual problems.  In addition, many crimes, accidents, job and school performance problems have been associated with the use of marijuana.  

Instead of legalizing marijuana, CASAC supports keeping marijuana illegal but decriminalizing personal use.  Decriminalizing is a public health approach that prioritizes treatment over incarceration and eliminates commercial incentives to promote marijuana use.  

Since 1974, CASAC, a United Way partner agency, has provided prevention education and community awareness regarding alcohol and other drugs. CASAC is the only New York State Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) approved and supported alcohol and other drug prevention agency in Chautauqua County. For further information about CASAC programs and services, call the Jamestown office at 664-3608, or the Dunkirk office at 366-4623, or go to CASAC’s website, www.casacweb.org.