By Joanne Grant LCPC , LADC, CCS,
Day One Director of Boys’ Residential Services
The Maine Marijuana Legalization Act is of specific concern to me as a community member, a parent, and as the Director of Boys’ Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Programs at Day One. Day One is Maine’s leading agency working with youth to address substance use disorders and mental health concerns.
I have worked with adolescents with substance abuse issues in many settings, including jails and residential facilities, for almost 20 years. Over this time, marijuana has been the drug leading to admission in about 85% of cases. Don’t be fooled, the criteria to be eligible to enter residential treatment are very severe, meaning these kids have great difficulty functioning in many life areas due to their marijuana use. They are homeless, expelled from school, depressed, and involved in the criminal justice system. We are not just talking about having the munchies, memory loss, laziness, and laughing a lot.
The young adults we hear about every week dying of opiate/opioid overdoses often began with marijuana use. Given the topic on everyone’s mind in this state, the opiate epidemic, why would we even consider legalization of marijuana as an option?
As a community member, I do not want to have businesses in my community that sell marijuana. I don’t want these sales and operations near our schools and places of worship, or near other places where children hang out and socialize. I don’t want marijuana cookies and candies sold at the local fair next to the place my kids purchase their fried dough and ice cream. Legalization is particularly dangerous to children, as evidenced by what we have seen in Colorado. There has been a dramatic surge in emergency room visits in that state involving children under nine who accidentally ate marijuana edibles after the state legalized the drug. More calls involving children ingesting marijuana were made to poison control centers in 2014-2015 than in the four previous years before legalization.
As a mother of two teenage daughters, I am worried that one of my jobs as a parent, educating them about the harms of drugs, will become even more difficult. They already hear mixed messages about how marijuana is “medicine” and how it is “harmless”. Being the children of a substance abuse counselor, they know better but are still confused. I am not sure why marijuana is promoted as harmless as we know it is not. There is abundant and validated research showing that marijuana, in fact, can cause harm.
I explain to my girls, marijuana is NEVER harmless for kids. This argument will be tougher to make if legislation is passed to legalize marijuana. I can hear my kids now; “if it’s bad, why is it legal?” We will be sending the message to kids that we as adults think marijuana is safe enough to be sold down the street from our favorite pizza shop or at the fair legally. Why wouldn’t they think it okay for them to use it? Believe it or not, our kids do care what we think! Studies have shown time and time again that when kids believe a drug isn’t harmful and is accepted in the community, they are more likely to use it.
Another issue is access. Our youth can already acquire this illegal drug quite easily. According to the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey (MIYHS 2015) alcohol is #1 at 23.8% and marijuana is #2 at 19.6% for past 30 day use; simply stated, the commercial alcohol industry and access is what drives alcohol to be #1. Why would we want to legalize recreational marijuana and see the legal marijuana industry push use higher, like we have seen with alcohol? There are no penalties written in Question 1 for pot shops that sell to minors. Pot shops are shielded from responsibility to verify IDs are valid.
Let’s think for our kids whose brains haven’t developed enough to make educated decisions regarding what they put into their bodies. Studies show that the brain continues to develop until age 25. Adolescents don’t have the futuristic thinking to comprehend the potential consequences. They follow our lead, so let’s show them! Please vote NO on #1 for our youth. This will be a significant help in fighting the opiate epidemic and keeping our children healthy and safe.