Op-Ed

Medical marijuana is now legal, but still a danger to children

TNS

Last month, Florida voters passed Amendment 2 — a landmark change to the state Constitution that allows individuals, including children, to use marijuana for medical purposes.

Recognizing the direct impact that the amendment would have on children in our community, the School Board of Miami-Dade County took action before Election Day. At our Oct. 5 board meeting, we passed a resolution enabling school district staff to convene with critical stakeholders in an effort to educate the community on the issue and begin outlining potential policy implications.

Now that the Florida Legislature is expected to discuss legislation to implement Amendment 2, it is incumbent upon state policy makers to consider the ways in which we can safeguard students in our schools. Miami-Dade County Public Schools is committed to advocating for students’ health and safety in light of the passage of Amendment 2.

As this industry emerges and expands across the country, medical marijuana laws have been implemented with limited stakeholder input in other states and have resulted in a broad interpretation of who needs marijuana for what medicinal purpose. Clinics have sprung up in these states, with medical professionals who can write prescriptions that allow people to obtain marijuana for a variety of ailments ranging from depression to minimizing the negative effects of cancer treatment. Adding to this dilemma, the evolving production has developed strains of marijuana that are many times more potent than what was available a few years ago, posing additional risks to our children.

Research findings on the topic of marijuana use and its impact on people’s health and on society have been mixed; however, in the midst of diverse conclusions, it is essential to err on the side of caution for our community’s youth. According to a publication by the American Psychological Association (APA), short-term marijuana use has been shown to impair attention, memory, learning and decision-making. These effects can last days after the marijuana is used. In addition, the publication cites studies that have found correlations among heavy marijuana use in adolescence or early adulthood with negative life outcomes, including poor school performance, higher dropout rates, greater unemployment and lower life satisfaction. In states where marijuana sales are conducted in close proximity to schools, documentation shows the ill effects they have on school-age children’s academic performance, increases in minors’ visits to hospitals and and in car accidents involving young people.

It is imperative that Florida’s medical marijuana law be implemented with the appropriate responsibility, oversight and ongoing supervision to prevent our children from having easy access to a potent, addictive substance. To accomplish this, the School Board will be calling on school district partners across the state, including the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, to advocate for sensible implementation steps. We seek to create a task force that includes medical professionals familiar with addiction and substance abuse to assist in the development of recommendations and added protections related to the implementation of Amendment 2.

In addition, the School Board will consider important revisions to our own 2017 State Legislative Platform to include the prohibition of medical marijuana dispensaries within 2,500 feet of a school as well as the prohibition of the sale of medical marijuana products that resemble or are packaged like candy or other enticing food or drink items. We are also asking that medical marijuana products without administrative supervision, whether intended for use by students or staff, be banned from school property.

Although Amendment 2 will improve the quality of life for many Florida residents, such improvements cannot come at the expense of children’s safety. Our children are our future, our greatest asset, and we must collaborate as a community, locally and across the state, to protect them and their chances for success.

Alberto M. Carvalho is superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Martin Karp represents District 3 on the School Board.

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