Marijuana’s Mixed Message
by Karyn Brodsky | Staff Writer
“It’s unsafe and illegal,” says the metaphorical angel on one shoulder. “It can’t be that bad if they’re making it legal,” says the devil on the other. For years you warned your child to stay away from marijuana, but now some state legislatures are decriminalizing its use with more states to follow. What kind of message does this send to the kids?
Mary Pat Angelini, General Assembly Republican deputy conference leader representing New Jersey’s 11th District, is concerned about that very question. She notes while it has become acceptable for some people to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, the message has evolved to allow it regardless of circumstance, influencing young people to think it is safe.
“This is sending the wrong message to young people. Marijuana is an addictive drug that often leads users to use other illegal drugs and down a path toward a number of medical and social problems.”
John Lieberman, Chief Operating Officer of Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers in Los Angeles and Malibu, agrees that legalizing marijuana sends a mixed message. “We tell our kids that marijuana is dangerous, yet in the states where it is legal, we glorify it with pot brownies or candy and even have celebrities producing these products for sale.”
Lieberman agrees that marijuana is dangerous, but it is not a gateway drug. “What we know to be true–what is a fact–is that parents decided it’s a gateway drug,” he explains. But, he says, that is incorrect. Alarmingly, today’s gateway drugs are methamphetamine, adderall, ritalin, vicodin, oxycontin, and heroin. He quotes a staggering statistic from a study by CASA at Columbia University: “This is the #1 health crisis in America; one in four kids who use illicit drugs during puberty will suffer addiction-related, lifelong, serious consequences,” he says.*
Adolescents are using more of these drugs for their first drug experience than marijuana, and parents are not aware of this. The reason, says Lieberman, is that these drugs don’t stay in the system for more than 12 hours or so, as kids have faster metabolisms, whereas marijuana may be detected within 30 days and has a distinct odor.
Lieberman adds that kids who are smoking marijuana are likely taking other harmful drugs. “I’ve been [working in this field] for 30 years, and I have yet to meet the kid who ONLY smokes marijuana.”
Studies show marijuana can cause lower grades, disinterest in activities and isolation, and physical effects to the brain, heart, and lungs. Teen and tween users are more likely to engage in dangerous behavior and have an increased risk of schizophrenia, depression, and suicidal thoughts. In fact, according to Angelini, treatment facilities see more children who have abused marijuana than any other drug, including alcohol.
The one-in-four addiction statistic drops to one-in-25 if the same kids don’t use marijuana or other drugs until 21 years old.* Lieberman explains that it’s all about the brain. An older person has a more mature brain and deals with stress through connections, relationships, and resolution, but the adolescent brain can’t process in this way. Smoking marijuana or taking drugs is how the adolescent brain rids itself of stress. Lieberman says if we can help kids not use drugs, we can improve the statistics 15-fold. “The best way is to invest in kids staying sober.”
Studies show marijuana can cause lower grades, disinterest in activities and isolation, and physical effects to the brain, heart, and lungs. Teen and tween users are more likely to engage in dangerous behavior and have an increased risk of schizophrenia, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
As states move forward with decriminalization, the Federal Government stands stalwart in their opposition to legalization. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids quotes Former Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, R. Gil Kerlikowske, as saying, “Legalizing marijuana sends the wrong message to young people. We are certainly not sending a very good message when we call it medicine and legalize it.” The current administration “steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana and other drugs because legalization would increase the availability and use of illicit drugs and pose significant health and safety risks to all Americans, particularly young people.”**
Yet, as the federal government warns against decriminalization, the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted to support a proposal seeking legalization of marijuana, and it passed 5-2. The bill is now eligible for consideration and may reach the House floor for vote. While Texas state law presently prohibits marijuana’s use without exception, proponents of legalization see the committee vote as a step in the “right” direction. They point to a statewide survey conducted by Public Policy Polling in September 2013 which found 58% of Texas voters support legalization and regulation of marijuana for adults. Heather Fazio, Texas Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project, says, “Marijuana prohibition’s days are numbered in the Lone Star State. Texas voters recognize that punishing adults for consuming a substance that is safer than alcohol is a waste of law enforcement resources and an affront to individual liberty. It appears most of the committee members agree.”
Lieberman warns of the consequences of decriminalizing marijuana. “The states that have legalized marijuana did so with no plan,” he says. “This can’t be overseen like alcohol; there is no federal government enforcement, no special taxes, and no federal government oversight.” He also warns of the future consequences. “My personal opinion after 30 years of experience is that we’ll see more kids die,” Lieberman asserts.
“This is the #1 health crisis in America; one in four kids who use illicit drugs during puberty will suffer addiction-related, lifelong, serious consequences.” – John Lieberman, Chief Operating Officer, Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers visionsteen.com
How will you present these mixed messages to your kids and resolve the battle between angel and devil? According to drug treatment experts, the best way is to educate yourself and your child about the effects of marijuana. What can you, as a parent, do to help prevent your teen from trying drugs? Warn them of the dangers, steer them in the right direction, and as Lieberman recommends, “Always know the who, what, when, and where when it comes to your kids.” Specifically, who will be there when they go out and will there will be parental supervision; what will they be doing when they get there; exactly when will they be there and when will they be home; and where is the location where they will be. “A text is not enough to confirm these details,” he says. “Sometimes you have to call another parent or physically go to the location where your child says he is to make sure nothing dangerous is happening.”