Sunday, March 18 , 2018, 7:18 pm | Fair 54º


Ed Stonefelt: Perception vs. Reality and the Legalization of Marijuana

As voters go to the polls to determine whether recreational marijuana use will become legal in California, it’s important that they consider the people most vulnerable to being affected by this legislation — our children.

Ed Stonefelt Click to view larger
Ed Stonefelt

There are many misperceptions about whether marijuana is an addictive drug. As CEO of the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse, which sees the impact of marijuana use in young people’s lives on a regular basis at our Daniel Bryant Youth & Family Treatment Center, I’d like to challenge the common perception that marijuana is not addictive.

To the brain, addiction is addiction. Different addictions may have different symptoms, but whatever the substance that produces it, the brain knows it wants more of that feeling of pleasure.

Just as with alcohol or tobacco, most chronic marijuana users who attempt to stop using will experience withdrawal symptoms ranging from irritability to anxiety, depression and insomnia.

It’s a well-documented fact that one in six kids who ever try marijuana will become addicted to the drug. More young people are in treatment for marijuana abuse or dependence than for the use of alcohol and all other drugs. So yes, some people may get away with using it, but not everyone.

Today’s marijuana is not your “Woodstock weed.” Legalization will only increase the THC content of the drug as vendors compete with each other for market share.

In states that have legalized marijuana, cannabis food and candy are being marketed to children and already are responsible for a growing number of marijuana-related emergency room visits.

A large e-cigarette industry is now targeting youth, allowing teens to “vape” marijuana more easily in public without being detected. Proposition 64 rolls back the prohibition of smoking advertisements on television and allows for marijuana advertisements on shows on which “at least 71.6 percent of the audience is expected to be 21 years of age or older.”

This so-called restriction will allow for advertising on most prime-time and family-viewing TV shows.

Since people tend to equate “legalization” with “safety,” the repercussion is that teens who are struggling with negative consequences from their marijuana use will be less likely to realize they have a problem and reach out for the help they need.

As treatment providers, we see the impact that chronic marijuana use has in the lives of the teens we work with, including declining school performance, conflicts in their relationships with parents and peers, developmental delays, poor social skills, and significant mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

These are serious functional impairments that can have lasting consequences if not treated. Research shows that adolescents who smoke marijuana once a week over a two-year period are almost six times more likely than nonsmokers to drop out of school and over three times less likely to enter college.

While the decriminalization of marijuana has its merits, Prop. 64 is really about letting a few billionaires make money, and not about civil rights or criminal justice. Before you vote yes, consider what the impact will be on our children.

— Ed Stonefelt is president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse. The opinions expressed are his own.

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