Legalizing Marijuana for Recreational Use: What’s the Big Deal?

(Article originally written for East Haddam News, March 2017)

The push to legalize marijuana for recreational use has been a fast moving train barreling across this country for several years; now it’s on our doorstep. Our legislators have considered a few bills supporting legalization that have been introduced during this session. And, right now, they are actively debating whether or not marijuana should be legalized for recreational use in our state. While the discussion in the legislature seems to focus mainly on the hoped for revenues that legalization might bring, I would suggest this: The most important issue that we, as concerned citizens, must consider if we allow marijuana to be legalized for recreational use is the very real impact it will have on our children and our communities.

Note: This is not about medical marijuana. Connecticut has already legalized the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions.

A few facts about what we’re seeing here in East Haddam:

• For the first time in six years, we are seeing a reported increase in the use of marijuana by our high school students. (5% increase)
• Among that same group of students, we are seeing a 17% decrease in the perception that marijuana use is harmful
• The perception of parental disapproval of marijuana use has dropped by 6%.

It is not coincidental that these shifts come at a time when there is so much hype about how harmless and natural this drug is.

A few numbers from Colorado*

• Colorado now ranks #1 in the country in marijuana use by minors;
• Marijuana use in Colorado among children ages 12 to 17 is higher than and rising faster than the national average with a 9.5% increase between 2012 and 2014;
• In Colorado, total juvenile marijuana-related arrests have increased…by 5% between 2012 and 2014;
• Emergency marijuana-related poison control calls in Colorado for children ages 0 to 8 years old increased by 206% between 2012 and 2015;
• Marijuana offenses in Colorado schools have increased 34% since legalization.
*Taken from “Lessons Learned after 4 Years of Marijuana Legalization” published by Smart Approaches to Marijuana. For more information, visit www.learnaboutsam.org).

Legalization of marijuana for recreational use will mean greater availability of this drug and that will translate into greater and easier access for our children. Any thought that regulations will be successful in controlling this is unfounded and not supported by data from Colorado. Think about retail shops, residential growers, edibles, marijuana infused juices and sodas. It’s all part of the expanding marijuana industry. And our children could have access to any or all of it.

Let’s think about our community:

• Supporters of the marijuana industry like to suggest that legalization will bring about a decrease in drug dealers. Do we really believe for one minute that drug dealers are going to go away?
• Do we want a retail shop going up in the center of town…or in a neighboring town? Do we want a field of 3 to 6 marijuana plants growing in our neighbor’s back yard?
• Do we want to see marijuana laced brownies, cookies, gummi bears, sodas, juices, POT-tarts, etc. showing up on our grocery store shelves, getting into the hand of our children…in fact, being marketed to attract them?
• Are we prepared to manage the costs that will be involved in providing increased treatment facilities for our children who have developed a drug dependency, for increased law enforcement , for developing alternative education programs for our children who are struggling with learning issues because of the effects of marijuana on the developing brain…short-term memory deficits, cognitive difficulties, concentration, IQ?
• Do we want our adolescent and young adult children to be unable to enter the work force because they can’t pass a drug test?
This is a complicated issue and the “social experiment” that Colorado began four years ago is still evolving. There hasn’t been enough time for us to really understand the full impact of legalizing marijuana for recreational use. We don’t know what will happen over an extended period of time.
What we do know at this point is that things are not going as well as the industry would have us believe. The early data is cause for a great deal of concern. Anyone who suggests that our children can be protected, that their access to this drug can be controlled, or that there are not very real, negative consequences for them as this drug becomes more available and accepted is denying the reality. Anyone who states that the culture and quality of our communities will not be affected when the marijuana industry begins to move in is hoping that we are not paying attention.
Whether you are in favor of, against, or on the fence about legalizing marijuana for recreational use, know this: Marijuana is not a benign drug. Marijuana use is harmful to our children and the earlier they begin to use, the greater and more lasting is the harm.

There is a lot of rhetoric out there and there are many conflicting arguments about legalizing marijuana for recreational use. It is really difficult to stay on top of it all. But we have an enormous responsibility to pay attention and be informed. We have to be vigilant. We have to question, challenge and scrutinize everything we hear on this subject. We have to be present and we have to speak up. We have to let our legislators know what we want.
My opinion: We don’t have to do this, especially now when we certainly don’t have enough clear and uncontested data to support legalization. Our children and our community are worth the wait.

Toni McCabe
March, 2017

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