How Cannabis Legalization Protects Teens

How Cannabis Legalization Protects Teens

Protecting children from drugs is a cause everyone can agree on. But the argument for cannabis legalization is often halted in its tracks by the mere suggestion of children being exposed to drugs.

After decades of enduring the war on drugs and trillions of dollars spent on those efforts, there is very little to show for. Teen drug use has remained fairly consistent since the launch of the D.A.R.E. program in 1983, and statistics in states with legal cannabis show teen use has either stayed the same or slightly decreased after legalization. If adults are worried about the effects of cannabis legalization on children, the data shows that it is a non-issue, and that traditional preventative efforts have been ineffective.

If the intention is truly to protect teens, then measures that prevent teens from going to jail for minor drug offenses must also be part of the dialogue. States that have legalized have typically decriminalized cannabis, a first step in protecting all citizens from incarceration. In November 2016, California legalized recreational cannabis for adults 21 and older. For those under 18 caught in possession of cannabis will only face a minor infraction, along with drug education and community service. This is in stark contrast to laws in states like Texas, where even a small amount of cannabis will lead to jail time, regardless of age.

how-cannabis-legalization-protects-teens

The effects of incarceration on such a young population means more teens with mental health disorders, especially when they are placed in adult detention facilities. Even if they manage to serve their time without incident, a criminal record can prevent a teen from seeking higher education, jobs, and housing. Research shows that teenagers who spent time in jail were 67 percent more likely to be incarcerated again before the age of 25. What’s more, they tend to commit more violent crimes after their experience in jail. The negative effects of incarceration show that our society is failing at protecting children, who are still children by law and under the protection of adults.

By studying the effectiveness of popular anti-drug education aimed at teens, the effects of legalization should have been predictable. The curriculum of the D.A.R.E. program used drug education as a deterrent, showing how different drugs worked and their harmful side effects. Its core tenant of “Just Say No” stressed abstinence, but also gave the impression that drug use was far more common than what was actually the case.

how-cannabis-legalization-protects-teens

Furthermore, “Just Say No” seems to have failed at helping teens deal with drug use among their peers. Researchers compared drug prevention programs worldwide and found that the most effective programs spent more time practicing scripted interactions than on drug education. There is also the psychology of an adult telling an adolescent not to do something. Teenagers testing their boundaries may actually be encouraged by an adult saying, “no” to a certain activity or choice. Some graduates of the D.A.R.E. program in the 80’s and 90’s admitted the curriculum inspired them to try drugs.

Cannabis legalization may seem like an easing of penalties for drug crimes, but some offenses have actually become stricter. Adults who sell or give cannabis to minors face felony charges, and business can lose their licenses for selling cannabis to minors. Legislation has been structured so that legal cannabis businesses are motivated to inspect the identification of all customers, and this protects teenagers from gaining access to cannabis while allowing for adult use.

These laws, combined with proven drug prevention education and incarceration reform, will truly help protect teenagers and better prepare them for adulthood.

 

 

Medical Cannabis Legalization Does Not Increase Teen Usage

Medical Cannabis Legalization Does Not Increase Teen Usage

Concern about medical cannabis legalization leading to teens feeling encouraged to use the plant recreationally and more frequently has been widely expressed. However, a recent study published in The Lancet Psychiatry concluded there are no significant links between adolescent cannabis use and the legalization of medical marijuana.

The comprehensive study, “Medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use in the USA from 1991 to 2014: results from annual, repeated cross-sectional surveys,” spanned a period of 24 years from 1991 though 2014. Over one million teens from the ages of 13 to 18 completed the government-funded survey. Given to 8th, 10th and 12th graders in 48 states, the periodic questionnaire focused on cannabis consumption in the previous month.

While it is important to note that teen cannabis use was generally higher in states that went on to legalize medical consumption, researchers did not see an additional spike in the plant’s usage after laws were passed. In fact, overall use by 8th graders decreased in states with legal medical marijuana. Some scientists speculated that the fall was due to children viewing the now ‘adult-approved’ plant to be less of an enjoyable recreational activity. Others considered that parents might be working harder to stop their children from trying cannabis.

Deborah Hasin, a reviewer of the data and Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York stated:

“Our findings provide the strongest evidence to date that marijuana use by teenagers does not increase after a state legalizes medical marijuana.”

However, this is not the only report or study that points to this conclusion. In 2013, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment showed that high school cannabis consumption decreased from 22 percent to 20 percent over the course of 2011 to 2013. Dr. Larry Wolk, CDPHE’s director, suggested that as with tobacco, youth prevention campaigns likely ensure that adult legalization does not impact the health of the state’s children.

The 13th Biennial California Student Survey found that marijuana consumption in teens was less than in years before medical cannabis was legal. The researchers also noted that the plant’s usage increased in states where medical marijuana was prohibited.

Dr. Kevin Hill from McLean Hospital’s Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse said of Hasin’s most recent study:

“Future decisions that states make about whether or not to enact medical marijuana laws should be at least partly guided by this evidence. The framework of using a scientific method to challenge what might be ideological beliefs must remain an important driver of future research on marijuana policy.”

Harvard Univeristy’s 2014 Harvard Public Opinion Project, found that legalization does not encourage marijuana use. This study focused on full legalization rather than solely on medical marijuana legalization. Nearly 90 percent of participants who have not used marijuana responded that they are not likely to change behavior if it is legalized.

Why has teen cannabis use decreased as a result of legalization? Although one exact answer is not yet known, it may have something to do with increased knowledge about cannabis. The answer to this question is a complicated and multifaceted one that will require more study. However, this most recent research signals a new wave of understanding for this fascinating plant.

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