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Legal pot will take its toll among teens.

Byline: Todd Huffman For The Register-Guard

Let me begin by acknowledging that the sky will not fall next July once the adult recreational use of marijuana becomes legal in Oregon.

In fact, the new voter-approved law reforms criminal justice practices relating to marijuana possession, and it directs 25 percent of the revenue from the marijuana tax to drug education and treatment, and 40 percent of the revenue to public schools. These are welcome things, the cognitive dissonance of drug-built, drug-free schools notwithstanding.

But as Oregonians celebrate their coming summer high, we also must prepare for the after-party: the increasingly higher numbers of teens using and becoming addicted to marijuana.

Legalization means greater use among teens as their perception of risk drops. Legalization tells kids that "marijuana is not a big deal." Studies already have confirmed this phenomenon: Only 40 percent of American teens now report perceiving "great risk" to smoking marijuana once or twice a week. Already on the rise, marijuana use among teens surely will accelerate with increasing societal normalization and glamorization.

Legalization also means greater access, leading more kids to use and hijacking their potential success in school and in life. As with alcohol, wider availability filters down to kids. Make no mistake, kids will enjoy greater access to marijuana through adult siblings, adult acquaintances, and through some parents' unsecured stockpiling of marijuana and THC-infused confections.

And for the truly determined teen user, there will remain the black market. It's nave to think that the black market simply will fade with legalization. Instead, with pot legal for adults, the black market likely will redirect its efforts to teens, where the damage of marijuana use is greater and more irreversible.

Proponents have argued that teens already have access to marijuana, saying, "They're going to get it anyway; just look at alcohol." Yes, let us indeed look at alcohol: It is advertised and glamorized, and its use and abuse is portrayed by the popular media as humorous and necessary for a good time. As a result, half of American teens claim to have used alcohol - and 1 in 4 admit to binge drinking - within the past month.

Oregonians must dispel themselves of any notion that marijuana is a harmless drug and rid themselves of the false comfort of marijuana being less harmful than alcohol. The argument is not between alcohol and marijuana. Teens aren't deciding between the two. Many more now will use both. And while the dangers of alcohol addiction and abuse are undeniable, the dangers of marijuana addiction and abuse widely are denied.

The scientific verdict is in: 1 in 6 U.S. kids who try marijuana will become addicted to it, and addiction happens far more quickly than in adults. Each year, more kids enter treatment for marijuana dependence than for all other drugs combined. Psychiatrists and youth-addiction clinics in Colorado this year report being inundated with young people reporting for marijuana-addiction treatment.

Also in Colorado, calls to poison- control centers and visits to emergency departments for marijuana-related physical and mental illness have skyrocketed. Kids (and some adults) are experiencing psychotic episodes as they binge on THC-laced cookies, candies, sodas and ice cream. Many baby boomers and others have a hard time understanding all that, but it's simply because today's marijuana can be so much more potent than the marijuana of yesteryear.

And then there are the significant adverse health, social, learning and behavioral changes marijuana use can lead to at a crucial time in a young person's development. Problems with memory, learning, thinking, problem solving, concentration and motivation all interfere with academic achievement and can impair intelligence. In other words, marijuana use shrinks not only the brain, but also the number of future opportunities.

Getting high also impairs judgment, which can lead to risky decision making on such issues as school attendance, sex, criminal activity, driving while impaired or riding with another impaired teen.

Finally, marijuana is unquestionably a gateway drug. Very few teens use other, more dangerous drugs without first using marijuana.

Oregon voters have spoken. This is not an indictment, but rather a warning, an ex-Boy Scout's caution to "be prepared."

All of us must now work even harder to prevent teens from using marijuana and alcohol. And we need to direct teens to treatment immediately when their use is discovered.

These aren't bad kids. They are our kids, and we must educate them and nurture them, guiding them nonjudgmentally towards help and a healthier and brighter future.
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Title Annotation:Guest Viewpoint
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 16, 2014
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