A push to decriminalize marijuana could prove a slippery slope, by giving kids the false impression on the safety of a drug increasingly legal nationwide.
Some believe a similar problem could happen in Florida, especially after voters passed Amendment 2, which began the process of legalizing medical marijuana throughout the Sunshine State.
A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics found as more states legalize the drug for adult use, a greater number of teenagers think it is safe. This is leading to concerns by doctors and other medical professionals that teens are underestimating the risks of marijuana use.
“Marijuana is not a benign drug for teenagers because it affects their developing mind. Teenagers are at a critical time of brain development and they have lifelong impacts from marijuana during adolescence,” Dr. Stephen Patrick of Vanderbilt University Medical Center told Chris Martinez of CBS New York.
In “Counseling Parents and Teens About Marijuana Use in the Era of Legalization of Marijuana” the report outlines dangers of portraying pot as acceptable, safe and therapeutic.
For example, in California and the 28 other states (including Florida) allowing either medical or recreational marijuana use for adults over 21, pediatricians are worrying that parents using the drug think it’s OK for kids.
However, research shows that is not the case. Teenagers who use marijuana face higher risks of changes in the brain regions that affect both memory and IQ.
These concerns have now reached Washington D.C., as newly appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions restated his opposition to marijuana use after a meeting with the Nebraska attorney general, who expressed concerns about marijuana flowing in from Colorado, which legalized weed in 2012.
Huffington Post reports that Sessions offered an ominous warning about state-level marijuana legalization efforts, suggesting such policies would open states to “more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.”
For years, Nebraska has pushed back against its neighboring state’s marijuana laws.
In 2014, Nebraska joined Oklahoma in a federal lawsuit against Colorado to invalidate its emerging laws permitting the sale of recreational marijuana; both states claim those laws have increased trafficking of the drug in their states.
“I don’t think America is going to be a better place when people of all ages, and particularly young people, are smoking pot,” Sessions told reporters at the Justice Department. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice, and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that.”
Last week, Sessions’ comments were echoed by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who hinted there would be a federal crackdown on recreational marijuana in the Trump administration.
Spicer noted concerns by marijuana policy reform advocates, saying there would be a possibility of “greater enforcement” of federal laws.
Health advocacy group Smart Medicine for Florida sees a similar problem emerging in the Sunshine State, after the passage of Amendment 2.
“There’s been significant national focus and reports all over the country this week about the danger of unrestrained marijuana expansion,” says Smart Medicine for Florida spokesman Brian Hughes. “This includes serious warnings from doctors to parents about the effects of marijuana on their teenagers, and the perception that teens now have that marijuana is safe due to broad legalization efforts across the country.”
Smart Medicine for Florida is urging state lawmakers to “proceed cautiously” when implementing Amendment 2 statewide.
“Some voices are pushing for rapid expansion at the risk of Floridians — especially young people,” Hughes says in a statement. “It’s nothing more than a bait and switch — Floridians voted for medical marijuana with proper safeguards, but proponents are pursuing a goal to see Florida become a ‘recreational use’ state. “
Smart Medicine warns of those who have a dream to turn Florida into California or Colorado — places with legal recreational marijuana — with a pot shop on every corner.
That would be “dangerous,” Hughes says, “and not what voters supported.”