Tuesday, March 28, 2023

As of Election Day this year, marijuana usage and sale has been legalized in New Jersey. Whether we voted for it or not, it’s a done deal. And so the question is, now what?

Many of us are still in shock; it would have been one thing to decriminalize the use of marijuana, which some of us could have maybe supported. But to actually make marijuana—a drug that is proven to be mind-altering, addictive and even dangerous in some instances—legal?

But again, it’s a done deal. And now we parents have to deal with the implications and ramifications.

It’s important to remember that while marijuana may have become legalized—and mind you, the law hasn’t gone into effect yet—it will still remain illegal for young people under the age of 21 to purchase, use or sell marijuana. Just as it is illegal for them to purchase, use or sell alcohol or tobacco. And we need to make sure our children understand that distinction.

At a recent workshop I participated in, sponsored by the Essex Country Traumatic Loss Coalition, Bill Lillis of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, spoke to a group of counselors about where we go from here. Bill shared evidence-based research that proves that marijuana use in a developing brain has clear negative effects. He explained research that shows how marijuana use during adolescence is associated with reduced high school completion and degree attainment. It has been proven that marijuana use causes impaired memory, difficulties in problem solving, change of mood, altered senses, and even impaired body movement. The research also shows how marijuana use during adolescence increased the use of other illicit drugs. Further research has shown that marijuana also has negative effects on women who are pregnant.

The workshop discussion included information on how the marijuana of 2020 is far stronger and more potent that the marijuana of the 1980s and 1990s, and how it is as yet unclear how the New Jersey legislation is going to be able to control and monitor the chemical makeup of the marijuana, which will now be sold on the open market, or regulate its manufacture. Similarly, the dispensation of medical marijuana is not clearly regulated or monitored, a recipe for future dependency and addiction.

The second part of the workshop discussed what we mental health professionals and the parents we work with are going to do now that marijuana is here to stay. Much of that discussion focused on the past efforts dealing with vaping, tobacco and alcohol use. While some of those substances are known to be misused and abused, leading to poor judgement, dangerous behaviors and/or addiction, the focus in schools and other prevention programs has been on getting the message out about how dangerous these substances can be, and how to avoid them. Those warnings and discussions will, and should be, the same with marijuana.

Bill referred to alcohol as Public Enemy No. 1, tobacco as No. 2 and now marijuana as No. 3. He pointed out that new efforts will need to focus on how to message the dangers of marijuana to our kids and students, how to make marijuana usage “uncool.” In addition to messages such as “don’t drink and drive,” we will now have “don’t smoke and drive” or “the Surgeon General has determined that marijuana usage can be dangerous for your health.” A focus on health and wellness will point out the damage marijuana can do to your health and, most importantly, that “legal doesn’t mean healthy or safe.”

We have an uphill battle ahead of us. The Partnership is available to make these presentations virtually, for free, to any groups that request it, big or small. The Partnership also has printed material it will share to post on bulletin boards or send out as flyers. Good luck to us all.

By Eta Levenson


Sign up now!