April 27, 2016

Marijuana Initiatives, An “Ungodly Mess”

By Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools

According to The International Business Times, there are currently at least 10 legalization-of-marijuana ballot measures vying to appear on the state’s November 2016 ballot. Keith Humphreys, a Stanford professor who co-chaired the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, predicts it could become an “ungodly mess.”

Humphreys describes California as a “game changer,” “the jewel in the crown” if you favor legalization. The International Business Times describes California as the “cultural and economic nucleus of the country’s cannabis scene,” and points out that “the political and financial spoils would be hefty.”

My primary interest is the potential long-term, sustaining impact for young people that this “ungodly mess” can reap. I’m concerned that a well-funded advertising campaign will create confusion for parents and the voting population as they seek credible and factual information, with a focus on youth.

I turned to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, which is the nation’s largest non-profit provider of addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery services. They are uniquely qualified to comment on the effects of marijuana use, which they see every day among the people they serve at their 15 locations.

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation position paper on the legalization of marijuana reflects their strong belief in educating the public, especially young people and their parents, about the dangers and potentially addictive dynamics of all drugs, including marijuana. The position paper may be helpful to parents and all those concerned with the well-being of young people.

It states:

“We know marijuana is dangerous to many users and addictive to some, and that young people are particularly vulnerable. While the debates over legalization continue, many young people view marijuana as less risky, and not surprisingly, more and more of them are smoking marijuana for the first time.

Early use of marijuana is especially troubling. The human brain develops throughout adolescence and well beyond. Marijuana use can harm learning, thinking and memory development and can contribute to mental health issues, not to mention medical problems.

We also know the earlier a young person starts to use any mood and mind altering substance, the greater the possibility of developing addiction. One of the recurring themes we hear from the youth we treat is regret – of wasted time, lost opportunities, squandered talent, impaired memory, reduced performance and disinterest in healthy activities.

Expanded social acceptance will almost certainly result in more new users, higher frequency of use among established users and increases in marijuana-associated health and social problems.

Therefore, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation opposes any efforts that increase the availability of marijuana and minimize the dangers of its use.”

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation statement reflects the Foundation’s clear and singular aim in reducing the harmful impact of addiction. I share these goals and thank them for clarity on an important public policy issue.