What You and Your Teen Should Know About Legalized Marijuana

by Marilyn Morris

Whether you’re aware of it or not, your job as a parent just became a little more difficult on January 1, 2014.  If you’re drawing a blank, perhaps the mere mention of Colorado will stir your memory. It does, however, have everything to do with marijuana.  Ah, yes – that was the first day in American history where people could walk into a retail store in the United States and legally purchase recreational marijuana. 

Twenty-five states have approved marijuana to some degree..

Many teenagers try marijuana and some use it regularly. Teenage marijuana use is at its highest level in 30 years, and today’s teens are more likely to use marijuana than tobacco. Many states allow recreational use of marijuana in adults ages 21 and over. Recreational marijuana use by children and teenagers is not legal in anywhere in the United States. Today’s marijuana plants are grown differently than in the past and can contain two to three times more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient that makes people high. The ingredient of the marijuana plant thought to have most medical benefits, cannabidiol (CBD), has not increased and remains at about 1%.  Big deal? Nothing has changed regarding underage use. It’s still against the law in all 50 states for anyone under 21 to purchase or consume marijuana.  Well, the problem, as I see it, focuses on one word


Teenagers across America are fully aware pot has been declared LEGAL in certain states. And, in their minds, since prescription marijuana is sold legally in 25 states (and D.C.), it must also be SAFE.  Therefore, it’s easy for a teenage brain to put those two words together – LEGAL AND SAFE and automatically think:  Let’s Party!

Here’s another concern regarding PERCEPTION. When teenagers perceive there’s a low risk factor, usage typically goes up. But when they perceive a high risk factor, usage goes down. Tobacco is a great example. Our society has done an amazing job over the past few decades teaching us the dangers of tobacco. Through television, billboards, radio and classrooms – students have been bombarded with a message, “Tobacco is hazardous to your health.” As a result, the risk factor has steadily climbed while the use has gone down.

20 years ago 62% of high school seniors had smoked cigarettes.

Today 38% have smoked cigarettes.

The exact opposite is being played out right before our eyes.  As the media focused on the benefits of medical marijuana and voices across the country declared pot as harmless, the use among teens has been rising.

20 years ago 35% of high school seniors had used marijuana.

Today 46% have used marijuana.[i]

What Teenagers Need to Know

It’s your responsibility as a parent to teach your children the truth about marijuana.  Perhaps the following facts might make for some interesting dinner-time conversations.

1.     THC, the primary ingredient that causes the high in marijuana, has steadily climbed over the past four decades. In fact, the average THC potency:

In the 1970s was 1%

In the 1990s was 4%    

Today is about 13% and climbing[ii]

2.     17 percent, or about 1 in 6 teenagers who use marijuana, will become addicted. That number goes up to 25–50 percent among daily users.[iii]

3.     Most people who use marijuana will never use harder drugs. However, nearly every person who uses cocaine and heroin started with marijuana and/or alcohol.

“Never once, after dealing with thousands and thousands

of addicts, have I ever dealt with a heroin addict, a cocaine

addict or anybody else that didn’t start with marijuana.”

Dr. Fletcher Brothers, Director of Freedom Village: Home for Troubled Teens

4.     Short-term effects of marijuana include problems with memory, concentration, motivation, judgment, learning and anxiety.  When alcohol or other drugs are included, the effects can be far more serious.

“I didn’t have to become drug czar to be opposed to

legalized marijuana. As Secretary of Education I realized,

given the state of American education, the last thing we needed

was a policy that made widely available a substance that

 impairs memory, concentration, and attention span.

Why in God’s name foster the use of a drug that makes you stupid?”

Bill Bennett, former Secretary of Education and the Nation’s first Drug Czar.

5.     Marijuana affects skills required to drive safely: judgment, alertness, concentration, coordination and reaction time. So it’s dangerous to drive high or ride with someone who’s been using marijuana. And combining even a small amount of alcohol with marijuana greatly increases the risk.

“Smoking marijuana has a very negative effect on your

ability to operate a motor vehicle… It’s quite dangerous to you,

your passengers and others on the road.”

Gil Kerlikowske, Current U.S. Drug Czar

“Law enforcement officials say traffic fatalities in Colorado

decreased 16 percent between 2006 and 2011, while deaths involving

drivers testing positive for just marijuana increased 114 percent.”

Dan Freeman, Houston Chronicle, Nov. 8, 2013.

Note:  In 2007, Colorado legalized storefronts for medical marijuana.[iv]

Facts about Marijuana :

1.     Marijuana is a green or gray mixture of dried, shredded flowers and leaves of the hemp plant.

2.     It’s usually rolled into a marijuana cigarette called a joint.

3.     It can also be smoked in a water pipe called a bong or a cigar called a blunt.

4.     It can also be mixed into food or brewed as tea.

5.     Standard urine tests can detect traces of THC several days after use.  In heavy users, THC can often be detected for weeks.

The Teen Brain: A Work in Progress

Thanks to MRIs, we now know the final stage of the human brain development takes place during the teenage years and concludes in the mid-20s.  It’s during this critical time of brain development where a young person will learn to plan, set priorities, control impulses and weigh the consequences of their actions.

Just as pregnant women are told they must avoid drugs and alcohol to protect the health of their developing baby, this same message should be shouted from the rooftops to teenagers as a means to protect their developing brains.  When teens use marijuana, alcohol or other psychoactive drugs, it can damage critical brain connections.  As a result, habits and behaviors associated with the use of these drugs at a young age can become ingrained in the brain and remain for a lifetime.  Therefore, young people are at far greater risk of addiction and permanent intellectual, social and emotional damage due to the effects of drugs than any other age group.


Do your children know your Family Values regarding the use of marijuana?

[i] http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/data/13data/13drtbl1.pdf

[ii] http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/09/health/weed-potency-levels/

[iii] www.drugabuse.gov/publications/marijuana-facts-teens/some-things-to-think-about

[iv] http://sensiblecolorado.org/history-of-co-medical-marijuana-laws/

re-printed from www.aimforsuccess.org.

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