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Marijuana Legalization in California: Considerations for Teachers & Parents

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With California being the most recent state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, many citizens are concerned that usage will increase among the younger population. Here we'll explore the topic and go over some things for teachers and parents to take into consideration.

The Great Marijuana Debate

It's no secret that marijuana legalization is a hot topic in our country these days. Along with California, eight other states and the District of Columbia have passed laws making it legal for adults to use the substance recreationally. In addition, 29 states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

While this topic has its fair share of both supporters and critics, one of the largest concerns in the state of California is that the legalization of recreational marijuana will cause usage to spike among young people, especially teenagers. And, truth be told, that assumption makes perfect sense: if kids know marijuana is legal, it may lead them to believe that it's completely harmless and okay to use. Unfortunately, that's not the case, particularly for that segment of the population. A report from the American Psychological Association indicates that marijuana can have adverse, long-term effects on the developing brains of adolescents.

In this post, we'll take a look at some statistics, learn what is already being done to discourage young people from using cannabis and discover what you as a teacher or parent can do to keep kids educated and informed.

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A Look at the Numbers

One way for Californians to get an idea of the potential for an increase in adolescent marijuana use is to take a look at some statistics that have been recorded in states where it's already legal recreationally. However, these statistics only represent a small amount of research, since these states legalized recreational marijuana fairly recently.

One study by the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics took a look at adolescent marijuana use in Washington and Colorado, both of which legalized recreational cannabis in 2012.

  • In Washington, pot use among students in the eighth and tenth grades increased by 2% and 4.1% between 2010 and 2015—not a huge jump, but considerable nonetheless. Also, the perceived harmfulness of marijuana decreased among those same students during that time, indicating that legalization may lead to a softened perception of the substance's risks.
  • In Colorado, on the other hand, no increase in marijuana usage was found between 2010 and 2015, and students' perceptions of its harmfulness remained unchanged following legalization. Unlike Washington, Colorado had a booming medical marijuana industry before recreational legalization and the substance was already fairly easy to obtain, which may provide a rationale for these perceptions. Side note: California has had a thriving medical marijuana industry since 1996, when it became the first state to legalize it for medical purposes.

Although there have been many other studies and surveys on teenage marijuana use following legalization, most researchers agree that more information is needed before any large conclusions can be drawn. Also, regardless of the findings of any study, on one point they're unanimous: states where recreational cannabis is legal, or may soon become legal, should invest in evidence-based educational programs that aim to prevent adolescent substance abuse.

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Proactive Measures to Date

In California, there are already a couple of measures in place that aim to dissuade the younger population from using pot. Let's take a closer look:

  • The California Department of Public Health's 'Let's Talk Cannabis' initiative created a website to educate citizens about the law and increase awareness of the effects of marijuana on the mind, body, and health. According to the site's youth section, underage citizens that are caught with pot will have to undergo drug counseling and community service.
  • Boys & Girls Clubs in California—and across the country—offer the SMART Moves program, which aims to prevent adolescents from engaging in risky behaviors such as drug use and sexual activity. The program helps kids build strong decision-making skills through open discussions and role-playing exercises.

In addition, there are several regulations in place that prohibit dispensaries from selling marijuana within certain distances of schools and other youth-serving establishments. It's also illegal to carry any marijuana product with you at these places.

How You Can Help

Most people agree that children should be educated about the risks of marijuana as well as the laws that surround it, especially in states where it's legal. However, as we mentioned earlier, legal pot is a tricky concept for kids to grasp, since the law essentially says it's okay to use it. As a teacher or parent, it can be difficult to know how to approach this topic or what to say. Here are some things you can do to keep adolescents informed and aware:

  • Don't preach. Avoid hammering kids on the head with claims that pot is dangerous and absolutely unacceptable. Instead, have rational, honest conversations that explore all of the substance's aspects, such as its pros and cons and the differences between medical and recreational marijuana. Answer any questions with straightforward answers.
  • Rather than focusing on all of the things that might happen if kids use pot (e.g., bad grades or trouble with the law), try to focus on the things that may not happen, such as attending college or even graduating from high school. By mentioning that pot has a profound influence on motivation and giving solid examples, you might get kids to think twice before using.
  • Bring up the fact that marijuana has been proven to negatively affect brain development in adolescents. This can lead to trouble with learning as it affects memory and concentration.
  • Try to promote and cultivate school-based or community-based initiatives that use evidence to educate youth about all aspects of marijuana and the laws surrounding it. If kids are armed with factual, unbiased information, they may be more likely to ''get it.''

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Going Forward

Now that you've heard some information and considerations regarding marijuana legalization and youth, you should have a better idea as to how to approach the topic with your students or kids. If you have any other advice or thoughts, please leave a comment below.

By Erin Riskey
February 2018
current events school life

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