Karen Bailey’s devastating experience losing a son to a drug overdose is made even more tragic by the fact that it was entirely preventable — however, not in the way she is suggesting ( Why Florida should say no to marijuana, Jan 26, Other Views). Bailey maintains that her son started with marijuana, that it shouldn’t be legalized because it is a gateway drug and that it is “damaging to the teenage brain.”
Her concerns surrounding marijuana being a gateway drug, though understandable, are misunderstood. Studies have failed to support the gateway theory, and scientists dismissed this notion years ago.
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, in a report commissioned by Congress, found “no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.” A 2002 RAND study found similar results. Lead researcher Andrew Morral, associate director of RAND’s Public Safety and Justice Unit said that, “While the gateway theory has enjoyed popular acceptance, scientists have always had their doubts. Our study shows that these doubts are justified.”
Morral suggests that “the people who are predisposed to use drugs and have the opportunity to use drugs are more likely than others to use both marijuana and harder drugs.” The gateway theory has been debunked time and again.
What’s more, the fact that her son was able to easily get hold of the plant is just one example of how our current marijuana laws have failed to curb teen access to pot. Marijuana is widely available and sold to anyone, at any age — no ID required.
We all agree that teens shouldn’t be consuming any mind-altering substances at all, period. Those are important developmental years. Adolescent marijuana use, like any other legal, mind-altering substance (alcohol, tobacco) can be associated with potentially harmful physical and social risks that may affect their growing bodies. However, Bailey and Florida parents everywhere should be aware of the fact that mounting research on states that have established a regulatory regime for certain individuals to gain legal access to marijuana continues to show that adolescent-use rates have either stayed the same, or even gone down.
A study conducted by a Rhode Island hospital found that there was no statistical increase in marijuana use among high school students in Rhode Island following the implementation of a medical marijuana program in 2006. Further, studies conducted by the Montana Office of Public Instruction and the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission both showed a decline in marijuana use among their respective states’ youth population following the implementation of a legal program.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, the evidence is clear that legal marijuana markets have not only failed to show an increase in consumption among minors, but may actually help contain and minimize teen use.
Sabrina Fendrick, director, women’s outreach, National Organization
for the Reform of Marijuana Laws,