In September 2011, I lost my son to a drug overdose.
He was a typical home-grown Florida boy who admired Bobby Bowden, Tony Dungy, and Tim Tebow. He had a huge heart and enjoyed playing football, wakeboarding on the lake and riding four-wheelers in the mud. Unfortunately, he also liked to smoke pot.
His attitude toward marijuana was like that of many people who are in favor of legalizing it. He viewed it as a natural rite of passage, safer than alcohol and something that would soon be legal. It is only after burying him that I see how dangerous this point of view can be.
Florida should not legalize marijuana because it is a gateway drug that is addictive and damaging to the teenage brain. Moreover, without FDA regulation there is no way to monitor the drug’s potency.
Marijuana can lead a person to experiment with more dangerous drugs. While this isn’t always the case, sadly it was my son’s case. In one of the last conversations I had with him, he shared with me that his addiction to prescription pills had started with marijuana. He told me that he initially smoked pot because it lowered his inhibitions when socializing. He then fell into the habit of taking pills in order to maintain the buzz he got from pot. Those pills became an addiction he could not control and, ultimately, they took his precious life.
According to the latest survey released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 60 percent of teenagers do not think marijuana is harmful. But there is ample evidence that marijuana is addictive and damaging to the undeveloped teenage brain.
According to a study published in Experiential and Clinical Psychopharmacology, every one in six children become addicted to marijuana after using it just once. My son shared with me that he first tried marijuana in middle school. Ninety percent of addictions start in the teenage years.
Addiction can happen at any age. However, the best reason of all not to legalize marijuana would be the fact that the human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25.
New research by Asaf Keller of the University of Maryland finds that marijuana can cause permanent brain abnormalities in adolescence. Marijuana use in these formative years can actually lower a person’s IQ by as many as eight points, according to an August 2013 report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
My other major concern with legalized marijuana in Florida is the lack of regulation from the FDA. Levels of THC (the active ingredient in pot) have risen from 4 percent in 1980 to 15 percent in 2012. So marijuana is far more potent than ever. There is no quality or dosage control in the proposed ballot initiative to legalize pot, so there would be no way to prevent sales to minors or to stop diversion to minors.
There is also no way to assure legitimate use of medical marijuana. If it becomes legal, how many teens will use it simply to get high, versus to treat a medical condition?
My mother was a tenacious Hatfield raised in the Appalachia Mountains of West Virginia. She had a rare spinal tumor that left her bedridden the last four years of her life. My family understands the need for pain management during difficult medical circumstances, but there are other, already approved, medical options for them.
We also understand our children are our biggest asset and we owe it to them to ensure they have a chance at a bright future. I have seen and lived with the damage marijuana can do. Saying No to legalizing marijuana in Florida does not make us a less compassionate or loving state. It is out of love for our children, for those like my son, that we must say No.
Karen Bailey is a mother and real estate professional who lives in Ocala. She serves on the board of directors for the State of Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Foundation (PDMP).