In fact, the research is mounting showing that youth marijuana use is a much bigger deal than previously thought. Many people are unaware of how much marijuana has changed in recent years. Even fewer people have considered the potential impacts on our communities if the current non-profit system for medical marijuana program were to be replaced or supplemented with a commercial marijuana industry. Consider the following points:
Having more marijuana businesses in our community will increase youth access to marijuana. The greater the number of marijuana outlets in your city, the more youth will have access to it (usually by way of an adult), and with more access, use rates among youth under 21 will go up. Decades of alcohol and tobacco research shows that youth use of legal substances is higher in places where there is easier access for adults, despite age restrictions1. An unknown portion of medical marijuana is known to get into the hands of kids eventually. A study of adolescents in drug treatment found that 75% had used someone else’s medical marijuana2. Seeing more marijuana businesses also reinforces kids’ impressions that marijuana use is typical when in fact the overwhelming majority of people in Los Angeles County do not use marijuana3.
Increased availability of marijuana will mean more marijuana-involved traffic fatalities. Driving while high on marijuana doubles the risk of a crash4 and driving while under the influence of alcohol and marijuana combined is double again the risk of accidents with marijuana alone5. Combining even low doses of alcohol and marijuana can make the effects on driving similar to being intoxicated over the legal limit5. Here in LA County, deaths from marijuana-involved traffic accidents rose 510% after 2003, when California law changed to allow storefront medical marijuana dispensaries, increasing access to marijuana3.
De-criminalization is working. Possession of personal use quantities of marijuana does not merit arrest or incarceration in California. As of now, the penalty for illegal personal use or possession of marijuana is an infraction (a ticket) with a maximum fine of $100 with no criminal record6. We support therapeutic instead of criminal penalties for all youth and adult drug use, such as restorative justice programs, offender re-entry programs and probation reform, but even under our current laws, marijuana offenses have a minimal impact on incarceration rates.
Weed is no safer for kids than alcohol. Alcohol use is associated with risky behavior that results in more injuries and deaths, but it does not cause the permanent changes to teens’ ability to concentrate and learn that marijuana does7. Even if youth aren’t as likely to damage their bodies using marijuana, causing permanent harm to their verbal, cognitive and attentive capabilities is no better.
Today’s marijuana is much stronger than the pot of 20 years ago and so are its impacts. The average potency (in THC content) of marijuana today is over twice the average potency of even 20 years ago8. High potency strains may have as much as 12 times greater concentrations of THC compared to the average potency of marijuana 20 years ago. Higher potency increases the odds of harmful side effects and developing dependence9.
Young people can become addicted to marijuana. Even though most kids won’t get addicted, many do. Approximately 9% of adolescents who experiment with marijuana will develop dependence, but the proportion increases to between 25% and 50% among those who smoke marijuana daily10.