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American Academy of Pediatrics: Legalizing Marijuana Not Good for Kids

February 02, 2015  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

More than 20 states have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use and by 2016 additional state legislatures will either approve recreational use or put it on the ballot for a decision by voters. It is likely that the issue will be on the ballot in Massachusetts and, if poles are any indication, a measure to legalize pot for recreational use will pass

Noting that many legal and policy decisions are being made about marijuana, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement, The Impact of Marijuana Policies on Youth: Clinical, Research and Legal Update. In an online explanation for families, the AAP stated that "as legal decisions are made about marijuana, we need to think about the health and well-being of our youth."  

The American Academy of Pediatrics represents more than 60,000 physicians and other healthcare practitioners who provide care for our children; sets standards for the training and continuing education of pediatricians; and, is the leading force in country to assure the health and well-being of children, teens, and young adults.

According to the Academy, children and adolescents may be harmed when adults have easier access to marijuana for recreational or medical purposes.

Marijuana use is very common among teens in the US with about 1 in 5 high school students having used it in the past month. These rates are higher in Massachusetts, including Falmouth. The following information is excerpted from the AAP's consumer website, which highlights and explains the organization's marijuana policy.

Youth Should Not Use Marijuana

There is a popular perception that marijuana is not dangerous—but it is dangerous, both in the short term and the long term. Here's why:

  • It interferes with judgment, concentration, reaction time and coordination in ways that can make youth more likely to get into car accidents or otherwise injure themselves while using it.
  • The ways that it interferes with brain functions such as memory, attention and problem-solving can make it much harder for youth to learn and succeed in school.
  • Contrary to what many people think, it can be addictive.
  • Inhaling the smoke can cause lung problems.
  • New research shows that marijuana use during adolescence and young adulthood, when the brain is going through many important changes, can lead to permanent problems with memory, learning and thinking. 
  • Youth who use marijuana regularly are less likely to finish high school or get other degrees, more likely to use other drugs, and more likely to try to commit suicide.

That's why it is really important that laws prevent youth from buying marijuana. Even more, we need to do everything possible to prevent them from using it or being exposed to it. That means:

  • Parents, relatives, and other caregivers should not use marijuana around children, both for safety reasons and role-modeling reasons. 
  • Banning any marijuana marketing to youth.
  • Making sure that there is child-safe packaging and other safety measures.
  • Creating public health campaigns like the ones that have used against smoking. 

Penalties for Using Marijuana Should Not Ruin a Child's Future

Hundreds of thousands of youth have been arrested or put in jail for using marijuana. Having a criminal record can make it hard or impossible to get college loans, financial aid, housing, and certain kinds of jobs. While the AAP does not believe that marijuana use should be legal, it does believe that it should be decriminalized so that penalties for marijuana-related offenses are reduced to lesser criminal charges or civil penalties. Our efforts should go into prevention and treatment, not locking kids up; we want to give our youth a good future instead of taking it away.   

If Marijuana is Going to Be Used As a Medicine, It Must Be Done Carefully—and with Research to Understand All of Its Effects 

The AAP believes in using the usual Food and Drug Administration (FDA) processes instead of "medical marijuana" laws. The FDA has a long track record of being sure that medicines are safe and effective, and are dispensed and sold safely.

We also need more research on the use and safety of marijuana in youth. While studies have shown the chemicals in marijuana do seem to help people with chronic pain, as well as the nausea, vomiting, and appetite problems that are common in cancer, the studies were all done in adults. Youth are different from adults—and may react differently to marijuana. We need to find ways to fund this research and make it easier to do, so that we can really understand everything about how marijuana affects our youth.

Our first responsibility in everything we do as parents and caregivers should be to our children—because they rely on us to keep them safe and well, and because they are our future. Marijuana policies are no different. 

Let's be careful, thoughtful, and keep our children in mind. 

Recommended Resources

Legalization of Marijuana: Potential Impact on Youth — the policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics

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