If you have known me for any length of time, you know my position on illegal drugs. They are illegal, therefore I don’t use them. Not once, ever. With the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington states, however, I could. I still won’t. I know too much about this drug to ever try it. I have many friends who have smoked weed in the past; I also know many people who still do. There is much information for and against the legalization of marijuana. There is great debate regarding marijuana’s medicinal benefits. So, why won’t I try it? Why do I feel so strongly that this is the wrong direction for our country and mainly our young people? Simple. Too many people close to me and who I dearly love have been affected by it. There have been physical, psychological and financial consequences that have affected themselves and also me. As much as someone can debate marijuana’s benefits, I can tell you in great detail its detriments. I won’t debate with anyone anymore. I don’t have to. I know how I feel. I know my stance. I know my reasons. I also know the science and what it does to the teenage brain.
What I do know is I’m too personally affected. I can’t have a debate or discussion with anyone regarding marijuana’s recreational’s benefits. I lose it. My mind can’t take it. That’s why I am happy to have friends who can discuss, debate and have expert conversations with you regarding marijuana. One man who I greatly respect is Ray Lozano. To me, he is my resource and my go-to expert. I asked him to “speak” to you today regarding the new law in Colorado. Thankfully, he agreed. You want some straight talk about weed? Here’s a great start:
STRAIGHT TALK ABOUT WEED
One of the problems with getting straight answers about marijuana is that information is both hard to find and confusing. A person can do a Google search, “Is weed bad for you?” and get many different perspectives and often conflicting information. This leaves consumers wondering where to turn and who to trust when it comes to information about marijuana.
In the past, young people were not as interested in accurate, unbiased information about marijuana. I speak throughout the United States and internationally to young people about marijuana, and have found that as the debate has grown more convoluted, youth are genuinely interested in getting good information to help them be more informed for themselves or help peers. Where young people used to be afraid to admit use, they are actually addressing the issue out in the open. While this can be somewhat frightening to some educators and those working with youth, the fact that teens are asking the questions means that we have an opportunity to have a dialogue and have a positive impact.
Youth are asking questions like, “Why am I short of breath when I play football?” “Where is the paranoid feeling coming from when I smoke weed?” “How come I’m having trouble finishing…finishing…finishing my sentences?” Now that the recreational marijuana law has passed, the approach of educators and influencers of young people can’t be the old “us against them” mentality. Students who are failing in school have become scientists in weed. What I mean by that is that they are ready to have a discussion, not a debate. They have researched information, sadly often from pro-marijuana sources. The job of educators and those working with young people is to be equipped with information. Most importantly, the information that is most compelling is to separate the debate between medicinal marijuana and recreational marijuana, differentiate that of adult versus youth use and to identify the harmful effects of marijuana on developing bodies and minds. It is for this information that many schools in Colorado have invited me to speak to their campuses. Most people are afraid to have hard questions regarding weed thrown at them. I love it.
I have been working in the drug prevention field right out of high school, eh hem, some 31 years ago. I have seen a lot of different prevention models, trends and alarming reports. A recent report from the Colorado Department of Education regarding marijuana use and youth is one of the most alarming reports I have seen to date. Here it says:
Marijuana use is rising
Of the 46,500 students surveyed in 2010, 8 percent of 8th graders, 16.7 percent of 10th graders and 21.4 percent of 12th graders reported using marijuana in the previous month. Use increased in all three grades over the 2009 study. In 2010, there was also a significant increase in daily use in all three grades, reaching 1.2 percent, 3.3 percent and 6.1 percent in grades 8, 10 and 12, respectively.
Perception of marijuana’s harmfulness is decreasing
Students surveyed in 2010 reported that occasional and regular marijuana use was less harmful than did students surveyed the previous year.
Fewer students disapprove of marijuana use in 2010;
Students were less likely to disapprove of peers who occasionally and regularly use marijuana.
Marijuana is easier to get
In 2010, more students reported that marijuana was “fairly easy” to “very easy” to get.
Colorado schools are reporting alarming growth in drug-related problems.
During the 2009-10 academic year, Colorado schools recorded 5,048 disciplinary reports for drug offenses — a concerning increase of 33.5 percent over the previous school year. In that same period, school expulsions for drug offenses shot up 40 percent, and out-of-school suspensions were up 32.5 percent. The data include, but are not limited to, marijuana-related offenses. These troublesome increases happened in the same year that hundreds of marijuana dispensaries opened in Colorado, and federal Safe and Drug-Free Schools funds made available to school districts for drug-prevention programs were eliminated. Fewer resources are available to address changing social norms.
Back when the law for recreational pot use became legal in Colorado, those of us who work in the prevention field, were wondering what would change.
Upon returning to Colorado to speak on the topic of “Marijuana use and youth” I noticed a huge change. The University of Colorado newspapers, alone, are filled with ads for “medical” marijuana.
I find it ironic that a “medicine” that is used mainly for treatment of glaucoma, and the side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients, and conditions that are far more likely to afflict elderly people, is being mainly sold to youths and is young adults? People between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five often times don’t suffer from the things that marijuana mainly treats as medicine.
Colorado has issued over 130 licenses for recreational pot retailers, mostly in Denver. Although voters passed Amendment 64, which makes private recreational use of marijuana legal in the state, pot dealers still face some obstacles to supplying their trade. Federal law makes the sale of marijuana a crime, despite Attorney General Eric Holder’s assurance that he is not very interested in prosecuting marijuana cases.
Although there are obstacles to bringing, buying, and selling weed, these setbacks won’t stop the availability of legal marijuana. Even marijuana with high THC content will be easily accessible. Getting high, which has never been too difficult in the past, will be even easier now.
What does this mean for the future? Will weed just be a normal thing? Will it be the expected norm to have pizza, soda, and pot brownies at a party? Will drivers be stuck behind a slow car and say, “Oh, it’s probably just some guy getting high” as they switch lanes to get around him or her? The answers to those questions are still coalescing as we speak.
But the real damage will be to Colorado’s youth. Young brains are especially vulnerable to marijuana use; with studies showing that becoming drug-dependent is far more likely among people who start using marijuana in their teens.
Teens already use marijuana at higher rates than other age groups, with teens using at three times the national rate of adult usage. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, every one in four high school seniors uses pot. More than one-third of that percentage has used it in the previous 30 days. Eleven percent uses the drug daily.
These students are starting to use weed earlier and earlier at younger ages. Where most people would expect the average age for marijuana experimentation would be somewhere around seventeen, they would be surprised to realize that almost one in 10 middle school students in Adams County, north of Denver, are admitting they used marijuana in the previous 30 days. And the average age where kids try marijuana for the first time in America is a mere thirteen years of age. Walk on to any high school campus and you’re guaranteed to see kids skipping class to smoke, and sitting in class with red eyes, and a glazed look on their face.
The question now is, “Where do we go from here?” There is a growing wave of concerned parent groups, school administrators and faith-based organizations that will not go gently into that good night. I am glad to be part of them. One of the best things you and concerned citizens can do is to continue to be educated about the physiological and psychological to young people who smoke pot, be informed about the distinctions between medicinal and recreational use, and be ready to dialogue with young people on these points.
For more information, including having Ray speak to your group, or to get his newly released Marijuana DVD “High Expectations,” feel free to contact him through his website at www.raylozano.com, via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/speakerray, his marijuana blog, www.highexpectationsblog.com, or by phone at (909) 855-6871.
Harriet Turk: In her more than 20 years as a public speaker, Harriet has challenged teens and adults to see possibilities and make things happen in their lives. For over 25 years she has worked with alcohol/drug prevention programs and has a specific interest and background with safe driving programs for teens. Feel free to contact Harriet at www.harrietturk.com, or by phone at 800-789-9559.