Governor Jerry Brown’s interview with NBC’s “Meet The Press” brought attention to the debate in California of whether or not marijuana should be legalized. Gov. Brown stated that he does not think that encouraging people to get stoned would contribute to the foundation of a great state, or nation. Arguing that the world is a competitive place, Governor Brown is weary of marijuana and how it might impede upon the level of awareness necessary to be successful, which he believes potheads are generally lacking. As a precaution Governor Brown wants to give states like Colorado and Washington, who have already passed legislation legalizing marijuana, a chance to inform other states of the impact that legalization will have over time.
Governor Brown’s statement is not lacking in proper judgement, as it follows a word of caution delivered by Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper last week at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington. Governor Hickenlooper urged that states do not overlook the unintended consequences that come as a result of legalizing something that is not good for people.
This warning comes as new surveys indicate some of the consequences involved with the legalization of marijuana. The most pressing concern being that the numbers of marijuana usage among the youth are increasing. While campaigns promoting the legalization of marijuana often focus on the economic and financial benefits, as well as the benefits that decriminalization will have for youth and minority groups, the negative aspects tend to be trivialized. Especially the negative effects that legalization bears on young and impressionable minds. The evidence of the impact that marijuana has on the youth in Colorado may influence other states in their decision to legalize the drug.
An article published by Sheila Polk in January titled, Legalized Marijuana: Colorado Kids Are Paying the Price, points out that the potency of marijuana has dramatically increased since the 1990’s, from previous concentrations of 3 percent THC to the current concentration of 15 percent. Polk argues that those differences alone should change how people think about the drug.
The perception of the drug’s safety is greatly informed by old conceptions of marijuana that existed before strains of the drug were modified to produce higher levels of potency, and the effects of smoking or consuming it were less dramatic. These new manipulated strains, however, alter the effect of the drug on the brain, which may negatively impact young and developing minds. Polk’s article explains that the use of marijuana has effects on the brain which impair clarity of thought, intelligence, judgement, and the ability to reason. Legalizing the drug not only makes it more accessible but takes away from the perceived risks associated with its use at ages when the brain is still developing, sending the message that its unrestricted use is ok. Similar to alcohol, teens think because it’s legal that it’s not dangerous.
With marijuana usage among Colorado youth on the rise, Governor Hickenlooper’s top priority is to limit the negative impact that legalization is having on children. The National Institutes of Health reports that 16 percent of 16-year-olds who experiment with marijuana become addicted to it. To combat this issue, Governor Hickenlooper expects to spend $45 million on youth prevention, $40 million on substance abuse treatment, and $5.8 million on a media campaign that highlights the risks associated with marijuana use. With additional spending allotted for public health, the projected amount to be spent on precautionary measures will cost Colorado more than $100 million.
So while Governor Jerry Brown’s reluctance to entirely embrace marijuana’s legalization might dampen hopes of California becoming the next state to legalize it, he is not without good reason as consequences of it’s legalization are becoming more apparent. In time, the impact that legalizing marijuana has in Colorado will help other states make a more informed decision about which course to take in the future.
By Natalia Sanchez