What Marijuana Legalization Means for New Jersey Youth

After making marijuana legal to use for medical reasons in 2010, New Jersey has now made it legal to use for any reason.  More than three months after New Jerseyans voted to legalize recreational marijuana in the Garden State, it’s finally the law.  Although there still remains a lot of disagreement about these laws, there is one thing we all agree on–that is, we need to think about the health and well-being of our youth.  Our first responsibility in everything we do as parents and caregivers should be to our children—because they rely on us to keep them safe and well, and because they are our future. We must stay aware of findings regarding marijuana use among youth and possible consequences associated with it. Findings include those of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), for example, who believe that although there is a popular perception that marijuana isn’t dangerous, it can be- both in the short term and the long term. The AAP has stated that marijuana use by adolescents is “a major health problem.”

AAP findings include:

  • Marijuana interferes with judgment, concentration, reaction time and coordination in ways that can make youth more likely to get into car accidents or otherwise injure themselves while using it.
  • Marijuana interferes with brain functions such as memory, attention and problem-solving making it much harder for youth to learn and succeed in school. Research shows that marijuana use during adolescence and young adulthood, when the brain is going through many important changes, can lead to permanent problems with memory, learning and thinking.
  • Contrary to what many people think, it can be addictive.
  • Inhaling the smoke can cause lung problems
  • Youth who use marijuana regularly are less likely to finish high school or get other degrees, more likely to use other drugs, and more likely to try to commit suicides.

The AAP does believe, though, that the penalties for using marijuana shouldn’t ruin a child’s future. Hundreds of thousands of youth have been arrested or put in jail for using marijuana. Having a criminal record can make it hard or impossible to get college loans, financial aid, housing, and certain kinds of jobs. While the AAP questions the benefits of marijuana legalization, it does believe (as does Prevention is Key) that reducing penalties for marijuana-related offenses to lesser criminal charges or civil penalties makes sense. PIK & AAP also agree that efforts should go into prevention and treatment, not locking kids up in order to give our youth a good future instead of taking it away.

PIK hopes, then, that Governor Murphy will keep his promise to work to keep marijuana away from those under 21, by directing 15% of the enhanced 7% state sales tax  to “underage deterrence and prevention,” specifically community groups who will use the money to educate children and young adults about the dangers of substance use. PIK is anxious to be a part of the education campaign and invites you to join us on March 9th, as we partner with Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), to learn how to come together to stop the marijuana industry from opening marijuana stores in our neighborhoods that sell high potency products, advertise to our young people, and even deliver to our homes!

Contact me at bkauffman@mcpik.org for more information.

We hope to see you there.