Next week, recreational marijuana use will become legal in Nevada and on January 1, 2018 California will trod the same uncertain path.
Among the many concerns about this new future, the potential impact on children is one that both sides of the debate have addressed. Unfortunately, the experience of Colorado and Washington - states that recently legalized recreational marijuana - shows that the safeguards built into the new law are not enough to protect children.
In Colorado, for instance, cannabis-related emergency room visits for toddlers shot up by 200 percent and calls to poison hotlines jumped 500 percent. (Source: JAMA Pediatrics journal.) As any parent can tell you: toddlers will place “anything” in their mouths; young children want to eat the same things as mom and dad; and teenagers try things they shouldn’t so they can be as cool as their friend.
California lawmakers are scrambling to enact legislation based on the experiences of other jurisdictions that have rapidly legalized cannabis. AB 350 (Salas, D-Bakersfield), for instance, will prohibit any marijuana “edible” from being sold in a shape such as a person, animal, insect or fruit that may entice children. (Think animal crackers, goldfish crackers or candy bars.)
While the new legalization law already prohibits selling any marijuana product that is “attractive” to children, supporters of AB 350 say it’s not enough. Medical marijuana stores, for example, already offer an assortment of marijuana-laced brownies, cookies, gummies and other candy products. Just last year, 19 people were sent to a San Francisco emergency room after inadvertently eating marijuana products at a party. The legislature – in its recent budget bill – voted to bring the regulations for medical and recreational marijuana under the same regulatory scheme.
Sadly, over the past 20 years, the use of marijuana has become almost as common as tobacco among adolescents and young adults but the drug has been shown to have a wide range of side effects, both physical and mental. Those include hallucinations, temporary paranoia, depression, suicidal thoughts, lower life satisfaction, a higher likelihood of dropping out of school, and an increase in job absences, accidents and injuries.
Nevertheless, marijuana supporters are intent on making it as “mainstream” as possible. There is even a children’s book designed to demystify the drug. The story is that of a little girl who wakes up and smells something “funny” coming from her parent’s room. A similar search on children’s books about alcohol found only offerings on dealing with substance abuse and the dangers of addiction.
Washington and Colorado provide other lessons for California. Since the legalization of the drug in those states traffic accidents have increased and marijuana businesses are mostly locating in low-income neighborhoods.