Friday, October 31, 2014

How youth get regulated marijuana

In his message to state employees Governor Inslee wrote, "While it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to use or purchase marijuana, the reality is that legalizing the drug for adults makes it more accessible to youth." How is this possible when marijuana stores don't let anyone in who isn't over 21?

Because, like alcohol, teenagers who use primarily get it from friends.  A recent New York Times article about Colorado's marijuana system provides the perfect example.  It tells the story of Zach, a college student who buys medical marijuana and then sells it to others.  "Some of Zach’s clients are under 21 and cannot buy recreational cannabis legally. But others are older students who simply don’t want to pay the hefty tax — three times that levied on medical marijuana. So despite the abundance of recreational cannabis products since the first retail shops opened in January, there is still a vibrant black market for medical marijuana . . ."

A vibrant black market exists in Washington, as well.  When the Liquor Control Board was gearing up for marijuana market rule-making in 2013, they released data about who makes up the current marijuana market.

A quarter of current marijuana users are under the age of 21 - a thriving black market for anyone over the age of 21 who wants to share or re-sell their legally purchased marijuana. 

In another New York Times article a researcher states, "If I were to design a substance that is bad for college students, it would be marijuana" because it impairs working memory.  How marijuana use impacts student learning is one reason why substance use prevention programs from early middle school through college are especially important.  To be most effective, prevention activities need to include those that impact the wider community such as limiting the number of marijuana retailers and enforcing laws so that people cannot buy the drug outside of state-licensed stores.  Marijuana enforcement needs do not go away when the drug is legalized, they just change focus.  

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