For over a decade, activists and big-money lobbyists have worked to make marijuana legal. In so doing, they have wreaked havoc on community efforts to reduce drug use, abuse and addiction. Their pro-drug messages contradict prevention messages from parents, schools and communities across the state and weaken opposition to youth drug use.
Stopping use before it starts has long been the key in Florida’s strategy to reduce substance abuse. The most effective drug prevention happens at the family’s kitchen table with parents as the first – and best – defense. Yet our schools, community and government have a role to reinforce those efforts by keeping access to drugs – and alcohol and tobacco – as difficult as possible for our youth. Legal marijuana – medical or not – sends a clear message to our kids that it is not dangerous and seriously undermines our efforts to reduce youth drug use.
It begins with marijuana being falsely portrayed as harmless. Marijuana is anything but benign. It has addictive qualities that cause changes in behavior, mood and consciousness along with negative long term effects – including psychosis and schizophrenia – for chronic users. Recent scientific studies back up these claims. Educators take note – a 2012 study in Australia showed that chronic use of marijuana causes a drop in IQ of up to eight points. Still another 2014 Northwestern University study showed that even casual marijuana use causes significant brain abnormalities.
Medical marijuana means more use and that means more kids smoking pot. Greater availability and lowered perception of harm will increase use. The current Florida ballot amendment allows teens to receive medical marijuana. More adolescents are now in treatment for marijuana dependency than for alcohol or all other illegal drugs combined. States with medical marijuana lead the nation in youth use and studies show that high school students who would otherwise be at low risk for habitual pot smoking say that they would use marijuana if it were legal.
Legalization means marijuana advertising targeted at youth will explode. Addictive industries always rely on the addicted to make their most profits. The quest for larger market shares will drive advertising and permeate of all our media encouraging pot smoking. If you liked Big Tobacco, you are going to love Big Marijuana. Expect the same slick ads that neglect to mention dangers in order to get kids hooked. Just look at Colorado to see Florida’s future. Pot shops will replace pill mills with unscrupulous physicians abusing their prescribing privileges for marijuana.
The world is dangerous enough for kids without sanctioning another intoxicating drug to trip them up.
Grant was director of Florida’s Office of Drug Control and serves as chairman of the Leon County drug prevention coalition.
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