On Election Day last month, voters in Washington and Colorado approved ballot measures to allow the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Adults are now allowed to possess and grow marijuana with state regulation and taxation. (Of note, a legalization measure in Oregon was defeated.) As a prevention specialist whose career thus far has been dedicated to protecting children through public policy from the dangers associated with drug misuse, this feels like a heavy blow.

Marijuana is Big Business; however, while the cost of marijuana is expected to be lower once legalized than it is on the black market, Colorado expects to generate between $4 and $21 million annually. Federal law still prohibits any use of marijuana, but current laws already give states the authority to determine penalties for possession, if any. The jury is still out on what the U.S. Department of Justice will do in the wake of this vote. What we do know is marijuana use is related to a myriad of health and safety concerns.

Foremost, marijuana harms the brain, the adolescent brain in particular. Marijuana smoke harms the lungs and contains carcinogens. Use is linked to mental illness, is shown to contribute to neurophsychological decline and has proven to double the risk of car crashes when used before or while driving. Recent research from a longitudinal study released by the National Institutes of Health shows an association of marijuana use with significantly lower IQ scores and learning problems 1.

A ripple effect will certainly be felt from these law changes in the coming years, but coalitions must not stop educating our communities to clarify the mass of misinformation circulating about the effects of marijuana use. The recent election results give us even more work to do to create a healthy environment in which our children will thrive. Perhaps now more than ever, we must fight to protect the progress our society has made in preventing drug misuse to therefore carry that protection on through the present and into the future.

For a comprehensive list of research articles and sources, visit our website at www.ASAPofAnderson.org.

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