Monday, December 2, 2013

Pot shop stings won't be enough to prevent marijuana availability among teenagers

Availability and norms are two of the strongest predictors of youth marijuana use.  An article in the Seattle Times discusses one form of availability (or, if you want to use the Department of Justice’s terminology: “distribution”): availability through buying marijuana in stores, expected to open in the middle of next year.  

Teenagers obtain marijuana from friends
What the article does not discuss is the primary way that youth who use marijuana actually get marijuana: through personal connections.  According to results from the 2012 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the most common way that Seattle high school students who use marijuana get marijuana is from friends.  About as many of these high school students report getting marijuana from their home as they do from a medical marijuana retail access point. 

One ounce of marijuana
Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images 
Distributing an ounce of marijuana
Though substance abuse treatment providers have been witnessing an increase in youth using edible and vaporized marijuana products, I am going to use the “traditional” form of marijuana  as an example.

If a parent, older sibling, or older friend buys an ounce of marijuana (the legal limit for a sales transaction), it looks something like the photo on the left.  From a quick Google search about how many joints can be made from an ounce, it appears as if the number is anywhere from 30 to 100 joints with 50 to 60 being the most common answer.  This means that a consumer who buys an ounce likely will not use the entire stash at one time leaving quite a bit of marijuana left-over.  This is similar to liquor -- most people who drink alcohol do not drink an entire bottle of vodka all at once.  So, what happens to the left-overs?

If it belongs to a parent, will it end up in a cabinet, waiting to be used again?  We know with alcohol and with prescription medications, this can be a significant source for youth.

If it belongs to an older sibling or friend of a teenager, what stops them from sharing it with people under the age of 21?  Or selling it to them?  Lately, community members have been sharing stories of people taking liquor orders from teens and then stealing or buying it for them.  What prohibits people over the age of 21 from taking marijuana orders from minors and buying it for them? 

These are a few examples of availability that will not be addressed by the Liquor Control Board (LCB) conducting sting operations in pot shops.  These are examples of availability that are much more likely to be a problem than teenagers buying pot in stores.

So, while it’s essential that the LCB keeps an eye on pot shops to ensure they don’t sell to minors, policy makers and communities need to do more to curb availability.

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