As you are likely aware, Washington is one of the first two states in the nation to pass a law (Initiative 502) legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. The passage of this law will bring about many changes in the way that our communities deal with and are affected by marijuana use.
In November, the My TOWN Coalition conducted a community survey. Although targeted to adults in Hoquiam, 746 people from around Grays Harbor shared their perceptions relating to youth alcohol use and to the new recreational marijuana law. Not surprisingly, many people are unsure about what kind of changes the new law brings. Here are some common questions:
Q: Now that marijuana is legal it is OK for youth to have small amounts?
A: NO. I-502 states that individuals 21 years of age or older are legally authorized to possess and use marijuana.
Q: Now that marijuana paraphernalia is legal, is it OK for youth to have in school?
A: NO. Schools have long been drug-free zones. Although marijuana is now legal, it is not legal for youth or individuals under age 21. Marijuana use is prohibited on school grounds just as alcohol use is.
Q: Is it a felony to provide marijuana to a minor, even to your own kids at home?
A: YES. It is a felony to provide any individual under the age of 21 with marijuana — even your own kids.
Q: Since marijuana is now available in health care settings, does that mean it is not harmful?
A: NO. Marijuana is a drug. All drugs, including alcohol, tobacco and medications have effects on the body that can be dangerous to certain people or in certain amounts. No drug can be considered “harmless” in every situation.
Q: Is eating food with marijuana in it safer because you are not taking in smoke?
A: NO. It is true that smoking marijuana may have effects on lung health, but eating it has its own set of risks. Regardless of how it is used, marijuana’s effect on the central nervous system is still the same.
Q: Do you have to be 21 or older to possess marijuana under the new law?
A: YES. I-502, however, does not regulate the medical marijuana age-limits.
Q: Can small amounts of marijuana be used in public?
A: NO. Marijuana cannot be used in view of the public. It is also not allowed on federal and most tribal lands.
Q: Now that recreational marijuana is legal, will Washington State continue to have medical marijuana regulations?
A: YES. The rules around medical marijuana will continue, but they are being looked at to make the two sets of rules clear. Any time there is a new law there is a period of adjustment when interpretation and level of enforcement can vary.
Impacts on Youth
Restricting the use of marijuana among youth is a critical part of the new law. Numerous studies have shown that the human brain continues to develop until about age 26. During these formative years pathways are being nurtured to establish learning patterns and develop the cognitive ability to make good decisions.
Marijuana, as with other drugs that affect the brain, can interrupt this process. We know that addiction can be prevented, treated and managed, but it cannot be cured. Once the brain is altered, it stays that way. Often people with addiction have severe physical, emotional, social and economic problems until they are able to effectively manage their disease.
Dr. Lesli Walker, chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, recently stated to the state legislature, “addiction is a pediatric disease. One in 6 kids who use marijuana monthly and 1 in 2 who use daily will become addicted. This is 3 to 4 times the rate of addiction than when people start using as adults.”
This is a startling and scary statistic and one that warrants your vigilance. Teens across the state, as well as locally, have increasingly reported that there is “little or no risk” from using marijuana. What is unclear is what they consider risk.
I want my children to have the best possible future they can have. Using marijuana is a risk I hope they don’t take. Research has shown that kids are less likely to use marijuana if they believe that their parents think it is wrong for them to do so. Kids in communities that send strong messages that marijuana use is harmful to youth are also less likely to use.
Legalized marijuana is here and it is an issue that we must face. No matter what your view on the subject is, one thing that even the experts on both sides of the argument agree on is that marijuana is not good for kids. I urge you to join me and My TOWN in protecting their future by making the following commitments:
• If you are a parent/guardian — talk to your kids about reasons not to use marijuana. Establish consequences and follow through.
• Model the behaviors that you want your child to emulate.
• As a community help support laws and regulations that make accessing marijuana difficult for kids.
Sabrina Craig is the Grays Harbor County Substance Abuse Specialist and current member of My TOWN Coalition. She has worked in substance abuse prevention, treatment, and administration for 18 years with hopes of educating communities and providing support and resources for individuals and families who struggle with substance use disorders. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.