The new way the left is trying to distract us is the continuing saga of legalization of drugs, specifically, now, marijuana. This is bad news for our society, but it’s really bad news for our kids.
I will preface this entire article with the following: I am virulently anti-drug, including pot. In past discussions, I have heard ridiculous arguments that other things like trans fats, white sugar (yes, really), tobacco and alcohol are more harmful than pot. As it pertains to our kids, I will address that fallacy. If the only argument for legalization was that as adults we have the right to make choices, even ones that harm us, as much as I hate drugs, I would say fine, individual liberty trumps. However, there is more at stake here than the selfish choices of addicted adults…our children. Even in a free society, the needs of our vulnerable children trump the individual liberty of adults.
First, let’s explore exactly what pot does to teens. The Society for Neuroscience had a meeting recently where a study was presented about the effects of pot on teens. It found that from a neurological standpoint, people who start smoking pot at a young age have more and permanent cognitive shortfalls and serious issues with focus, attention and decision making ability. Brain studies showed less “white matter” which affects learning and function and smaller brains, and less connections between brain cells, slowing thinking ability. Teen pot smokers were more impulsive and unable to learn from their mistakes. They also lost an average of eight IQ points. That is a significant drop which could and does affect long-term career prospects, job performance and income. Teen brains don’t completely mature until the mid-20’s. The study showed that their brains don’t “bounce back” as is the popular misconception.
The American Academy of Pediatrics published a paper regarding the effects of pot on children and teens. This paper looks at several factors, including the effect of marketing efforts if legalized, as well as the attitudinal shift that will occur if legalization occurs. In looking at the effect of marketing efforts of cigarettes and alcohol, the AAP found that while the industry claims not to market to children, the actual marketing is actually aimed at them. The “smoking or drinking is cool” message that is communicated through the use of young, hip and beautiful models screams through to kids. In the Comprehensive Tobacco Settlement lawsuit, it was demonstrated that regardless of regulation put on the industry, tobacco companies continued to market to young people.
How else can we see this? The CDC. In 2011 the CDC reported the following about smoking: 18.1% of high school students smoked one or more cigarettes for the month prior to the CDC’s study, and 4.3% of middle school students did as well. These students exhibited the following risky behaviors: high-risk sexual behavior, alcohol use, marijuana and heavier drug use.
Alcohol use in the 30 days prior to the study: 39% drank some amount of alcohol; 22% binge drank; 8% drove after drinking alcohol; and 24% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol. Another study reported that 33% of 8th graders and 70% of 12th graders had tried alcohol, and 13% of 8th graders and 40% of 12th graders drank during the past month. Teens that drink, even occasionally, have higher incidents of school problems, social problems, legal problems, interference with normal growth and development, unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity, physical and sexual assault, higher risk for suicide and homicide, memory problems, abuse of other drugs including pot, and death.
Those who like to argue that pot is safer than alcohol or tobacco, despite the studies that prove serious cognitive problems in adults who were teen pot smokers, ignore several factors. The biggest factor they ignore is that alcohol and tobacco cause more harm to society and people in general because they are widely and easily available, and socially acceptable. Marijuana is a psychoactive drug, and it is addictive. There are enough issues with the enforcement of laws that restrict alcohol and tobacco availability to children and teens. Adding pot to the mix means an additional burden on law enforcement, in an area where enforcement has been problematic.
Let’s also not forget that the American Academy of Pediatrics has also looked at the attitudinal shift that will take place if legalization occurs. The AAP has published studies that show that the “prevalence of adolescent marijuana use is inversely proportional to the perceived risk associated with use.” In other words, legal sanctions keep them from deciding to try pot. If that sanction isn’t there, the perceived risk diminishes and use among teens skyrockets. Teens who find that pot is easy to get are 2.5 times more likely to use it. So, according to the AAP, the easy availability combined with the decrease in risk means an increase in use. In addition, other long terms studies have shown that high school students don’t try harder drugs without first having tried pot. For example, the risk of using cocaine or heroin is much greater for those who have used pot.
In a society that values personal liberty, the choice to use or not use drugs, it can be argued, is the decision of the individual. However, given the risks and damage done to our children, is that particular personal liberty worth the harm to the next generation? I think we all know the real answer to that question.
Image: Courtesy of: http://www.choosehelp.com/news/parenting/what-a-young-teen-thinks-about-cigarettes-reveals-likelihood-to-also-use-drugs-and-alcohol.html