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Why Legalizing Marijuana Protects Young People

Jann Gumbiner, Ph.D. has a post at Psychology Today pondering how young people will be affected by marijuana legalization. She has more questions than answers, but it's interesting to see what concerns come up for a parent who's undecided on the issue.

Her conclusion strikes me as quite sensible:

As a parent, I ask myself, "what are the dangers to teens?" And, what are the likely scenarios? If pot is still illegal to anyone under 21, how will teens get it? I think the most likely scenario is the same as beer and cigarettes. Older brothers and sisters, with IDs, will legally buy packaged marijuana cigarettes at gas stations and share them with younger ones on Friday night parties. As a parent, I ask myself, "how do I feel about this?" And... after a little thought, I actually feel better knowing my child is with trusted friends, ingesting measured substances than on a corner at night buying an illegal substance from a stranger.

Bingo. It's a pretty rational conclusion, but one that can only be reached by accepting the reality that marijuana will be available with or without legalization. Too often, opponents of regulating marijuana sales appear to believe that it only becomes available once it's legal. I'm afraid it's not nearly that simple.

As a teenager, I witnessed firsthand a world in which it was easier to get marijuana than alcohol. I don't just say this now because it suits my agenda; it's the truth. If my friends wanted booze for a party, they planned days ahead. If they wanted pot, they just made a phone call. The difference was that old, but very true, cliché that drug dealers don’t check ID. That's why research has repeatedly shown that teenagers have easier access to marijuana than beer. What can never be quantified, however, are all the other harms that go along with this vast underground, underage drug economy that continues to thrive thanks to marijuana prohibition.

To be clear, I doubt this is the argument that's going to turn things around. If that were true it would have happened already. People don’t seem to get this, maybe because those darn kids have a nasty habit of not telling the grown-ups about their pot hook-ups. Instead, I would simply add this to the long list of reasons that legalization will work even better than most people expect.

That's right parents. Prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
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You're absolutely right

You're absolutely right about the availability of marijuana in high schools. Whenever I would throw a party it would take me several days to make sure I had the alcohol we needed. Often I'd have to call the cousin of a friend and throw some cash his way. On short notice I simply couldn't get enough alcohol a lot of the time to throw a party that was worthwhile. But when I would throw a party I was always amazed that a friend would call a dealer in our school and within 30 minutes he'd have however much he wanted delivered to the house. Add to the fact that getting a buzz off weed is cheaper than alcohol, unless you're drinking out of a plastic bottle and it's hard to see how keeping marijuana illegal "protects our children".

Parenting and Drugs

Jann Gumbiner sounds like a good, nurturing parent.  The not-so-good parents, the authoritarian types who posit a set of rules and lines in the sand that can’t be crossed, underestimate the influence they have over other people, and in particular, the influence they have over their own children.

Kids get far more cues and skills from their peers than they will ever get from their parents.  This can be a good thing, especially when a society needs to rid itself of ignorance, old prejudices, and obsolete ways of doing things.  An open society of this sort is one capable of evolving and making itself a better place for citizens to thrive.

Authoritarian parents prepare their unfortunate progeny to live in an illusionary world, a closed society filled with superstitions and prejudices, and one free of illicit drugs.  They refuse to educate young people on how to use illegal drugs in a way that achieves the minimum amount of harm when the little rascals, for whatever reason, reject authoritarian rule.  In this sense, authoritarians will never ‘get it’.  They remain forever evolutionally challenged.

In so-called primitive societies, drug use involving exotic plants is often an initiated rite carried out in a controlled setting under the direction of shamans.  The initiation process and social cushion that Dr. Gumbiner describes is similar in basic ways and eliminates many potential problems if, or most likely when, a young kid decides to sample a few drugs just to see what all the brouhaha is about.


Drew B's picture

Benefits of Regulation

Good to hear she thought it through. That's all it takes.

Since it's being procured from a regulated source we can be confident it's not polluted and even if it falls in the hands of people it should not, at least it's not adulterated.


Kids and pot

We had Dave the dope pusher.He was a super straight guy with a wife and kid who just happened to have a drug connection.I don't know what happened to Dave but he sure never asked for ID and he was only concerned with whether or not we were police.I heard he was pinched and,being the late 60's he probably either gave up his dealer or did hard time.I had friends who turned into informants and no matter how many times I told people about it they just wouldn't believe their friends were rats.Some died,some disappeared,some just vanished.I spent 12 years in prison because I wouldn't inform and I became addicted to heroin,which was just as available as pot and was a lot cheaper,at first.I was the only one of my group that made the really bad decision and it was due to a lot of personal problems along with the fact that it was a lot easier to mellow out on smack waiting for the door to come crashing in than on anything else.I just decided that if I was going to be kicked around and beaten on it was a whole lot easier to be whacked out on heroin.As a member of the counter culture we were being harassed constantly and had our doors kicked in and our brains kicked out on a fairly regular basis.Most kids would say no to heroin but with prohibition,the people they get their pot from will probably be able to hook them up if they feel the need.This is why it is so stupid to leave drugs in the hands of the criminal element.I hated heroin addicts with a passion before I became one.I was the last person that should have begun using.It was just there all the time and when my life began to fall apart it was a blessed relief.It became something else altogether.I couldn't comprehend life without it now.Not that I haven't been given much time to ponder by the government.As long as drugs are illegal and the powers that be continue to lie and obfuscate the truth,heroin will be as available as pot and often a lot less expensive.I was 21before I took my first fix.My first experience with an opiate was methadone.I make no disparaging remarks about that drug as it does a lot of good as a withdrawal mechanism.Maintenance is a political decision that makes zero sense.This drug war grinds people up and spits them out,usually broken and without hope.There is a huge difference between drug use and abuse.Our current system doesn't differentiate between the two.

Malkavian's picture

Horrendous story

At least you can be proud and upright that you didn't rat on your friends!

It's really horrible, and sometimes I can't really figure if I should tell people what's really going on. I personally feel that the stuff I'm observing out here in the shadows would be a little more truth than most normal people could handle. While I feel everything I'm observing is a clear indication that we need to make legal, regulated markets, they'd probably FREAK and call the military.

Just thinking how the laws have pushed synthethic cannabinoids to the front: now finally we have cannabinoids that are actually potentially lethal. But people will use them because they're stealthy as hell.

And heroin? Most wouldn't even use it if there was safe access to lower potency stuff like opium, codeine, morphine and the like. But getting pills is vastly more difficult than getting H.

"I spent 12 years in prison because I wouldn't inform"

As part of the war on users of selected drugs, we've been running a gigantic experiment where people who rat on their friends and connections get a big reward and people who won't do that get crucified. America the Beautiful in action, building character.

We called it Bob

In high school (circa early '90's), we called marijuana "Bob" when in front of parental or other figures. I could make a call, ask if they had seen Bob, or if Bob was coming out tonight or something, and make a deal on the phone right in front of my mother (once, she asked if I was dating a guy named Bob). We also drove to the ghetto drive-thrus all the time...And my friend sold out of his valet parking hut. And the ice cream truck drivers sometimes sold. But alcohol, that required an accommodating older sibling.

So yeah, pot was easier for me to get. And I'm sure my parents would have preferred I hadn't associated with all of the elements I did (in that "vast underground, underage drug economy").

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