The legalization of recreational marijuana in California brings with it some baggage, not the smallest piece of which are the possible health impacts.
Perhaps more to the point might be — what are the effects on children?
We pose that question because it is a certainty that pot smoking will be done by under-aged users. That was true with alcoholic beverages and cigarettes, and it will be true with marijuana.
The big difference we see is that both tobacco products and alcoholic beverages have undergone decades of research and tough regulation. Marijuana’s overall effects on the mind and body — especially young bodies not yet old enough to obtain a driver’s license — are still mostly a scientific mystery.
Regular marijuana users will quickly tell you the effects, but that’s not real science. It doesn’t qualify or quantify the active ingredients of the plant. It only relates how the user’s mind and body react to smoking and ingesting marijuana.
The mysteries of marijuana are being demonstrated by local jurisdictions’ reluctance to give in to open marijuana-selling commerce. Local governments throughout Santa Barbara County are struggling with what degrees of regulations and enforcement to apply to the new state law.
Those policy makers really are not questioning marijuana’s therapeutic qualities, as the plant is being used with significant success to treat everything from childhood seizures to post-traumatic stress syndrome, especially with soldiers returning from war. Marijuana is also proving effective in helping people deal with pain, and it has been suggested that marijuana could be the less-dangerous answer to the nation’s opioid-use crisis, which is now killing more Americans a year than car crashes.
Van Do-Reynoso, director of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, predicts specific challenges in a lack of scientific information on marijuana’s overall effects on mind and body: "We won’t have good data until 2020. It’s really far out.”
And he didn’t mean that in a stoner way. There’s just too little hard scientific data on marijuana on which to base local policy decisions. That, too, is a bit odd, given that marijuana has been in fairly wide use for generations.
Still, Do-Reynoso and other county health officials will be working to review and reconcile the available hard-science, evidence-based research to determine the best message, and how to deliver that message to adolescents and young adults, which are the most vulnerable subgroups of marijuana users.
One general assumption about marijuana use is that it has a far greater effect on young minds than on those of mature adults. But even that assertion has been challenged as having little basis in fact.
That one claim is symptomatic of the overall issue, which is that there just isn’t enough solid evidence to go on, and it apparently will be up to government, at just about every level, to find answers.
As for young people, the majority say they’ve grown weary of hearing adults fret about marijuana use by mostly teens. They hear about it from teachers at school, and from their parents at home. Doctors tell them it will affect their mind and body, without explaining how and why. Law enforcement cautions them to make smart choices.
That latter piece of advice seems to be the best course of action. As most parents know, kids tend to make their own choices, so talking things out at home, beginning at a very early age, at least arms a young person with information and perspective.
Meanwhile, local governments should continue to set policy for legalized marijuana — carefully.