HOLLYWOOD — Seeking to engage Los Angeles residents in a meaningful dialogue around how to protect youth from undue harms related to marijuana, a local collaboration of public health agencies, medical experts, law enforcement and youth groups hosted a community town hall May 18.
The forum — entitled “What’s What With Weed?” — brought together experts and community members to talk about youth and marijuana: the latest research, lessons learned from Oregon and Washington, and smart approaches to regulation to minimize youth access if marijuana is legalized.
“What’s What With Weed” was organized by Rethinking Access to Marijuana (RAM), a collaboration of public health agencies throughout Los Angeles County.
According to organizers, if marijuana is legalized for recreational use in California this November, it could have serious implications for young people.
“There are lots of passionate arguments being made to legalize marijuana for adults,” said Gilbert Mora, co-chair of RAM. “Unfortunately the impacts on youth are being lost. The time is now to have meaningful conversations about the relevant research, data and documented effects of medical and recreational marijuana access in communities as it relates to our youth population.”
“The statistical data from states that have legalized marijuana show us that easier access brings greater use. In fact, Colorado leads the nation for ages 12 to 17 in past month’s use,” Sgt. Glenn Walsh of the California Narcotics Officers’ Association. “The unintended consequences of legalization affect many areas of our community and put our children at greater risk.”
Those at the town hall heard about the latest research on marijuana and youth, which shows thatevery day 3,287 teens use pot for the first time.. Marijuana also poses specific risks to the developing adolescent brain and is correlated with poorer school performance, higher dropout rates and impaired verbal, cognitive and attention performance.
Youth are also more likely to become addicted to marijuana than adults.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, adults who use marijuana have a nine percent chance of becoming addicted. With teenagers, the rate jumps to 17 percent.
Increased access translates to increased use. In a nationwide survey, 72 percent of teens with parents who use marijuana used it also. Conversely, only 20 percent of those whose parents had never used marijuana had used marijuana themselves.
“We have already seen that with legalization of medical marijuana, teens now perceive marijuana use to be less harmful,” said Dr. Terez Yonan, adolescent medicine fellow at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “The most concerning aspect of legalization of recreational marijuana is that it may increase adolescent access to marijuana, further increasing rates of marijuana use.
“As medical providers, we see the detrimental effect of regular marijuana use on the development of the adolescent brain. Therefore, it is important that we have open and meaningful conversations with youth about the harms of early use so that they and their families can make the best decisions.”
Since marijuana growers in the state of Colorado were legally allowed to sell the drug for recreational use in 2014, calls to the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center for marijuana exposure increased more than 70 percent from 2013 and 150 percent from 2012. Of note, 45 of the 151 calls the center received in 2014 involved children at or below the age of 8.