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.