As Californians are about to be asked to make a decision whether or not to legalize marijuana, some Napa County parents and teachers attended a training on teen marijuana use.
The talk – called “Weeding out the Facts” – was led by John Redman, the executive director for California for a Drug Free Youth. Redman, who has discussed drug policy issues around the world, focused his talk on how drug policy and the proposed California Proposition 64 affect children and teenagers.
“Why should we care about marijuana policy?” Redman asked. “You should care because it affects everybody.”
Although he said that components of the marijuana plant can be used for medicinal purposes, Redman said that it isn’t just your sick grandparents lighting up for pain management. The legalization of medical marijuana in California has caused perception of the drug to change, he said, meaning that more people, including adolescents, don’t associate it with risks.
Because of the lower perception of harm or risk, student use is up – in California it is higher than the national average and in Northern California it’s even higher, Redman said.
“How can a child say ‘no’ to drugs when adults are saying yes?” he said.
Anytime there is a change in attitude, access or advertising of a substance, youth use increases, he said. Businesses in the marijuana industry are targeting their advertising to children by having the drug in forms children might find appealing (like in soda, candy and desserts) and by its playful packaging, he said. Some examples of this are Ring Pots, Cheeba Chews, Pot Tarts, and Buddafinger candy bars.
Why would companies target children? he asked.
“Start ‘em early and get ‘em addicted,” offered one of the nearly 30 people in attendance.
But marijuana isn’t addictive, right?
Redman says that is false.
“This is not the Woodstock weed of the ‘60s,” he said. The potency keeps increasing, which means there are more problems, he said.
In 1960, the level of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol – the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects – was less than 1 percent. In 1985, it rose to 4 percent, he said. By 2013, it was 12.5 percent THC and now it is between 14 and 15 percent THC. There are also ways other than smoking marijuana for people to get even higher THC levels, such as by vaping or dabbing.
Now that the THC levels are this high, Redman said that marijuana addiction is catching up to alcohol addiction.
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Redman said that other common arguments for legalization include preventing people from being in jail just for smoking pot, to allow for regulation, to tax it, and end drug cartels.
But legalizing it won’t solve all of these issues, he said, and neither will prohibiting it.
Only marijuana sales would be regulated with legalization, Redman said. “We don’t know what’s in the marijuana being sold,” he said. “There’s more regulation for ice cream … than marijuana.”
Addicted consumers don’t resemble the Cheech & Chong images we conjure up in our heads, he said. Instead, people who become addicted to marijuana – an estimated 2.7 million people – are more likely to be dependent on welfare programs and more likely to be unemployed, Redman said.
Researchers have found that adolescents’ long-term use of marijuana may be linked with lower IQs, he added. Marijuana users have a hard time thinking clearly, concentrating, remembering things, and solving problems in school and in life, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The potentially harmful effects go down as you age, Redman said, but usually if someone holds off from using until age 25, they only have a 5 percent chance of trying it.
In Napa County, 77 percent of 11th graders said that marijuana is easy to get and 24 percent of 11th graders reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, according to the 2011 California Healthy Kids Survey. According to the survey, 34 percent of seventh graders believed smoking marijuana once or twice a week does little to no harm.
“Changes in perception lead to changes in reality,” Redman said. By legalizing marijuana, adults may be getting what they want, he said, but they aren’t thinking about what is good for children.
Redman admitted that his lecture was “one-sided,” but said that he chose to do that since there is a lot more information out there from “the other side.”
Peggy Singer, who has an eighth grader in Harvest Middle School and a college student in Oregon, said that she was very interested to learn more about marijuana use in adolescents and young adults. As an inactive public health nurse, she said that she understands the social impact of addiction and how important it is to help children cope with anxiety in healthy ways.
“I’m glad I came so that I gained more accurate information,” Singer said. Since she was born in 1960 and graduated high school in 1978 at the peak of drug use, Singer said that she has seen how public opinion of marijuana use has changed over the years. “I’ve lived long enough to see the pendulum go from draconian to libertarian.”
“I lived it,” she said.
“It’s a contentious issue, but an issue of interest to most people,” said Jeannie Puhger, prevention manager with the Napa County Office of Education, who hosted the event along with Napa Valley Unified School District and the Napa Police Department.