For more than 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.
Prevention has long been the key in Florida’s strategy to reduce substance abuse. Better to stop drug use before it ever starts. In the past, community drug-prevention coalitions — with the assistance of the Florida Office of Drug Control — have successfully reduced youths’ use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
Sadly, Florida has lost the political will to sustain a robust prevention effort, leaving our young people at the mercy of the well-funded propaganda machine that seeks to legalize marijuana.
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 roles in reinforcing 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. Science has shown that 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 8 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. Smoking will increase and kids will be ingesting four times more tar than from tobacco.
More adolescents are now in treatment for marijuana dependency than for alcohol or all other illegal drugs combined. Colorado had the highest rate in the country of marijuana use among students ages 12-17, at 10.19 percent, according to state estimates provided by the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
More troubling is a recent Monitoring the Future study showing 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.
Increase youth use means more drugged driving crashes. Fatal vehicle accidents involving marijuana have tripled over the past decade according to study by Columbia University. There isn’t even an accepted non-blood test to determine THC intoxication to deter drugged driving.
Today’s marijuana is tremendously more powerful and acutely intoxicating with THC contents upwards of 20 percent — compared to 3 percent THC levels in the 1960s.
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 our kids hooked as a key long-term strategy for profiteers. Just look at Colorado to see Florida’s future with legalization. Pot shops will replace pill mills. Physicians will abuse their prescribing privileges for marijuana just as they did when over-prescribing deadly legal narcotics.
The medical marijuana ballot initiative would turn Florida into Colorado. The bill that just passed the Legislature allows cannabis oil to those truly sick who need it, but we don’t need to allow further legalization. The world is dangerous enough for kids without sanctioning another intoxicating drug to trip them up.
The real effect of medical marijuana in Florida will be to jeopardize the safety and drug-free future of our most precious resource — our youth. Current drug prevention efforts will be stymied leaving us with thousands of pot shops, more teenagers smoking pot and more deadly car wrecks. That won’t be on the ballot in November, but it should be on every voter’s mind.
Bruce Grant was the director of the Florida Office of Drug Control and now serves as the chairman of the Leon County drug prevention coalition.