By: Jeremy Morris, Associate Editor, USDR
Today, the Department of Justice issued updated guidance to federal prosecutors and law enforcement in light of state ballot initiatives in Washington and Colorado that legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults. Based on assurances that those states will effectively impose an appropriately strict regulatory system, the Department is deferring its right to challenge the legalization laws at this time.
For the parents and families we serve, today’s announcement – combined with the fact that federal funding for substance abuse prevention has been cut nearly in half over the past five years – means that education and prevention around teen marijuana use becomes all the more important. The movement to ensure that children’s health is protected now rests solely on the shoulders of parents, educators and, importantly, health care providers in these two states, while the implementation and ultimate effectiveness of any state regulations to protect children are still completely unknown.
We were recently in Colorado to listen and learn from leaders and experts on the ground about their state’s new, legalized drug landscape. What we brought to the ongoing conversation was new data on parent attitudes about medicalization, decriminalization and legalization of marijuana. Our new research found that most who support legalization of marijuana expect strict regulation of the substance’s availability to kids and teens. While 40 percent of adults say they are in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, a majority of them oppose any form of legal marijuana for use among kids and teens and they firmly do not want to see marijuana advertised and mass marketed where children can be exposed.
The bottom line: Parents not only expect, but demand, strict regulation of legalized marijuana. State and local governments’ ability to deliver on that expectation remains to be seen.
Our research also found that the risks of marijuana use that are of greatest concern to parents are the developmental consequences for teens, and the potential impact on their children’s futures. In Colorado, 85 percent of parents agreed that marijuana can have strong negative consequences on the still-developing brains of teenagers, and 85 percent agree that marijuana use at a young age can hurt performance in school and impact a young person’s future.
Their concerns are not unfounded. Marijuana poses genuine risks to children’s health and development. Today’s ruling means that parents have an even more critical role to play to ensure that the readily available marijuana in these states does not result in higher levels of use by and problems among their children and young teens.
One thing all of us can do as we enter into this new and legal landscape – parents, educators, the media, policy makers and health care professionals – is to say loudly and repeatedly that tweens and teens who use marijuana do risk harming their still developing brains, and they do have a higher likelihood of encountering problems in school and in later life if they persist in smoking.
On our part, we will continue to bring the voice of parents into the dialogue in Colorado, Washington and the likely new round of states that move forward with legalization given today’s announcement by the Department of Justice, working hard to be both responsive and rational to a health concern facing families and kids with a real impact on their future.