Dangers of Legalizing Marijuana – A Prevention Perspective

Since the 1920’s The United States has outlawed Marijuana in various degrees and forms across the country. These laws became unified and strengthened in 1970 when marijuana was declared a Schedule I drug with the Controlled Substances Act as Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. Marijuana has remained prohibited across the nation despite a growing number of users until 1996 when the State of California legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Since 1996, 15 other States and the District of Columbia have also chosen to make possession of small amounts of marijuana, for medical purposes, legal. Local Police Departments in many areas were also encouraged to treat marijuana infractions as a low priority offense. The Federal government has not cooperated with these laws, resulting in Federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries that act in accordance with State law.

As of this year, two States, Colorado and Washington, have legalized marijuana possession and use for adults over age 21. This is in direct contrast to the Federal law and was determined by majority vote of citizens. This blog is meant to inform you of two of the reasons this trend is concerning to Prevention and Treatment professionals and how such precedence can be dangerous to our youth.

In the United States, marijuana is the third most abused substance by youth. It follows only alcohol and tobacco in prevalence of use rate. This illustrates a primary concern felt by many prevention providers which is, normalization and societal acceptance of a drug results in increased use. Study upon study have confirmed this phenomenon is true not only for marijuana but any other substance as well. Conclusions from a very recent article out of Columbia University found that States that legalized marijuana use for medical purposes have significantly higher rates of marijuana use.  According to the 2009-2010 State Estimates of Substance Use, eight of the top ten top states, and sixteen of the top twenty States with the highest percentage of past month marijuana users ages (12-17) are States with medical marijuana programs. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), State Estimates from the 2009-2010 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, 2011). According to the 2009-2010 State Estimates of Substance Use, Colorado, the first to legalize marijuana, had the highest rate in the entire country of past 30 day use of marijuana among students ages (12-17), at 10.19%. The Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America released their statement based on research they had found stating that: “Research shows that there is a direct correlation between decreases in perception of harm and social disapproval and increases in drug use. Research also demonstrates that the most effective prevention reduces the access and availability of drugs and increases consequences for use. Legalizing medical marijuana and thereby reducing the associated consequences will lead to a certain and significant increase in marijuana use throughout the United States.”

A decreasing perception of risk and increasing availability is one of the reasons prevention groups are concerned about State by State legalization. It will be interesting to follow the individual States as the new legislation is implemented and studied to determine how the youth population may be affected.

About michaelkjohnson

I have been working here at Youth Services since 2008. I started working with the little kids at Christmas Box House and now supervise the Outreach and Drug Prevention team. When not busy runing around the valley and spreading the word about what we do around here I am found playing at the park with my dog, camping, or planning my next jet-setting adventure
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2 Responses to Dangers of Legalizing Marijuana – A Prevention Perspective

  1. Rick says:

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” – Albert Einstein.
    “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them” – Albert Einstein.

    Legalization of marijuana may be a risky social experiment, but the prohibition experiment over the past 50 years (at a cost of $1 trillion) is definitely a resounding failure.


    We need to look at the larger issues of why people want to explore psychoactive substances. People have been exploring the effects of psychoactive substances since consciousness evolved. We need to provide factual information and education regarding these substances. We need to promote safety, encourage informed choice, and provide compassion and unlimited treatment for addiction. I am not promoting that youth and adolescent age is the best time to explore these substances, but youth and adolescence is the time to be taught a healthy respect for the power and proper use of these substances. The younger the better. Scare tactics and criminalization do not work. The only “winners” of continued criminalization are the pharmaceutical industries, the private prison industries, and the criminal enterprises that meet the demand. Normalization to the fact that a certain percentage of any population will use drugs is necessary in order to create a new way of thinking about problems created by drug addiction.

    “We cannot change anything until we accept it” – Carl Jung

    • michaelkjohnson says:

      I agree the current system is certainly flawed and I don’t think endless incarceration is the answer. Having said that, keep in mind that the two drugs that are more used than any other, and the two drugs that lead to more deaths each year than any other are the same two drugs: alcohol and cigarettes. Both are legal, both are:normalized by society” and both are being used by our youth at higher rates than most other drugs combined.

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