Will legal marijuana be the bane of youth or can it help society curb use among kids? (Getty Images)
There is no perfect world in which kids have no interest in marijuana and no access to it if they do. In fact, many kids have interest in it, and for decades most kids have said access to marijuana is easy. Even so, as one Seattle principal noted in his letter about recent marijuana use, more than 70 percent of kids don’t do drugs or alcohol.
Nevertheless, almost all of the current public discussion around legal cannabis starts from the self-blinded position that legalization will make marijuana available to kids. Publications with headlines such as “How to Keep Kids Safe With the Legalization of Marijuana” give the impression that marijuana will suddenly become a big issue for kids.
Well, maybe legalization will have the opposite effect, even with kids’ attitudes about the dangers of marijuana slipping toward the “not so dangerous” side.
Why would that work?
Lifting the veil of fear and secrecy.
Fear of the law. Fear of the consequences. Fear hasn’t historically kept kids from pot, but it has kept them and their parents from talking about it openly. It has kept parents who use marijuana from admitting that use to their kids and school officials for fear of having their lives turned inside out by the law.
It has kept the very prolific use of marijuana hidden in plain sight — a hypocrisy that clearly hasn’t worked.
“When I was a kid,” said Lisa Sharp, manager for drug prevention and intervention at Seattle Public Schools, “I went through the D.A.R.E. program which is a lot of scare tactics — you’re going to go to jail forever type of thing. We don’t do that because that doesn’t work with kids.”
Now with legalization, that veil is lifting. Maybe the hypocrisy can be eliminated, too.
“Now that it’s legal,” Sharp said, “parents and kids now are admitting that families use, where maybe they weren’t before. … We are trying to help our parents look at it in a new way. If you are going to use, then what are the ways you can help keep your kids safe?”
Challenging times, for sure
One of the consequences of this new openness is that kids are more likely to see marijuana as less harmful, but that doesn’t mean kids have to think it is harmless or something they have to run right out and do.
In my long interview with Sharp, who did not take the position I’m taking in this article but instead talked with me about the new challenges (hard-to-spot vaporizers and edibles), tactics that work with kids and their parents:
“We tend to look at it similarly to alcohol at this point. We know that alcohol use for young people is not okay, that it’s not legal, it’s not safe, it has negative consequences, same with marijuana. So working with them on that analogy has helped some parents feel better about it.
“We also are talking to parents that they monitor their supply. Children’s hospital has told me they’ve seen young kids come in overdosing on edibles. They grab their parents chocolate off the counter and eat it and its THC filled, and they have negative reactions to that.”
The new availability of vaporizers and edibles in the medical marijuana market also present new challenges for schools:
“We were seeing an increase of hard alcohol at the end of last school year, and there has been a little bit less of that. What they are finding for the first time ever … it’s the first school year we have found and confiscated vaporizers. We are finding vaporizers and electronic cigarettes and we are getting more edibles,” Sharp said.
Those edibles, she added, were packaged and labeled and clearly came from the medical marijuana market.
“One teacher noticed that these students were passing around an inhaler, and it wasn’t an inhaler obviously it was a vaporizer,” she recounted.
Short answer here: Don’t sell to kids and police up your weed, folks.
But why legalize at all?
Without rehashing all the arguments for and against legalization, let’s just say that throwing another major segment of a generation of primarily young men (mostly black and Latino) in city/county jails and prisons won’t change the availability nor the increasing social acceptance of marijuana.
Instead, let’s talk. I know, weak. Talk talk talk talk … but that’s how we build up our understanding of the reality around us. That’s how we build within ourselves the moral compass or ethical framework that will give our choices direction … good or bad.
Go back to that big number at the top of the story: 70 to 75 percent of kids, even now, don’t do drugs. Kids want to be good. Kids want to fit in and become the adults they admire. They also what to have fun, be accepted by their peers and take life-defining risks.
“What kids tell us over and over again, when we survey them anonymously, the main reason why they choose to be drug free, if that’s the case, is because of their family and parents,” Sharp said.
Believe me, I’m no pollyanna about this stuff. I have two 20-plus-year-old daughters who went to schools in Seattle, and I confiscated and thrown out our family’s share of marijuana when they were teens. And I can tell you that one of my fears for them was that they be arrested for weed and somehow end up with a felony charge … losing a tremendous amount of their future rights in this country. Federal aid for college, for one.
A legal-weed world is a better world. But it’s not going to be an easy world, but neither will it be a harder world, because its challenging already.
“Is (the legal market) something we’re gearing for and getting ready for? Not particularly,” Sharp said, “because our messages are going to remain the same.”
What they tell kids about the “effects that young people get from using drugs and alcohol,” as Sharp said:
- school penalties
- discipline from guardians
- not having enough money
- compromised attention span
- short-term memory loss
- inability to concentrate
- … “many kids report more difficulty in critical thinking skills and problem solving skills”
- overall negative affect on academic performance
What about the money?
Marijuana and kids are a challenge worth addressing honestly and realistically. But it takes money to get professionals trained and in the schools, on the playground and available to homes where trouble maybe starting.
And I-502 will generate tens of millions of dollars to do just that. Funding for schools is a constant challenge and funding for drug education is way down on the list of programs to throw money at, but taxes from the sales of legal marijuana will be used for these programs and it could be significant.
How much will actually be generated is a guessing game, but for sure it will be in the hundreds of million. Colorado is looking at potential revenues that could hit a $1 billion annually. Here’s a diagram of hoped-for revenues and how that money has to be spent:
502 Tax Revenue Chart
I asked Sharp what she would do with a windfall of money, should one come her way. She’d spend it on the kids:
We know that preventing use is much more impactful than later intervention. … So if we can find any way to expand that and to really make that standardized across all buildings and make sure that every single 7th grader gets the same level of service across the district, that every family gets the same level of service and really getting thoughtful evidence-based programing. …
And, to be able to have folks in our buildings, especially our high schools, who can work with young people who are beginning to use, to be able to support them; (help kids) who have been caught at school maybe, and help support the family and the student through that process of assessing the problem and seeing if interventions are needed.
If this sort of support and forward-thinking gets funded by legal weed, then legalization will be much better for kids than what we’ve had in the past here and what’s still the present in prohibitionist states across the country.
Jake Ellison can be reached at 206-448-8334 or [email protected] Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/Jake_News. Also, swing by and *LIKE* his page on Facebook.
If Google Plus is your thing, check out our marijuana coverage here.
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service — if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.