The age limit of 18 for the purchase of alcohol is consistently circumvented. Identification is easily falsified, bought online or ‘borrowed’. Older siblings, friends, even parents could be the provider.
In the UK, 6,500 under-18s in 2012/3 were admitted to hospital for alcohol-related problems – almost 300 of them aged 11 or under.
Legal cannabis would be no different; dealers would still target children, undercut prices, turn to smuggling or other crimes. The black market in Colorado where cannabis is now legal, is flourishing. The Mafia persisted in the USA after the repeal of prohibition. Washington is now poised to follow suit. Dealers, like leopards, do not change their spots. The emerging marijuana industry in Colorado is trying to appeal to teenagers by offering cannabis-infused soda, chocolate taffy and jujubes.
Colorado permitted medical use of marijuana in 2009. In a Colorado children’s hospital, there were no admissions for cannabis-related ingestion cases in children under 12 (age range 8 months to 12 years) before then. From 2009-2011, there were 14. Eight involved medical cannabis, two were admitted to intensive care. Hospital discharges for marijuana in Colorado in 2012 numbered 1,774; in 2000 the figure was 778. A comparison of reported crime in Denver Colorado for the first 5 months of 2013 and 2014 showed a rise from 17,450 to 19,234.
Cannabis-related deaths are not new: for example in 2004, two teenagers died and one was left paralysed from marijuana-linked strokes. And in Denver Colorado, two deaths were linked to ingested cannabis. In March this year, a 19-year old student jumped from a hotel balcony after taking six times the recommended amount in a potent cookie, and a man shot dead his wife after purchasing Karma Kandy Orange Ginger.
Cannabis-related depression can lead to suicide. And fatal traffic accidents are escalating. Several recent homicides have been linked to the use of skunk.
Use would inevitably rise – it always does when laws are relaxed. Surveys show the law to be a contributing factor in deterring between 40%-60% of children from using drugs. Currently, only 2.8% of the UK population (16-59 years old) are regular (at least once/month) drug users, and 2.6% regular cannabis users. Among 11-15 year olds, regular use of drugs is 6% and cannabis 4%; the number who take drugs at least once/month is 2%.
The question must be: “Why even consider changing the law with all its tragic and unpredictable consequences to satisfy and pacify such a small proportion of the population hell-bent on making life easier (or more profitable) for themselves?”.
Parental disapproval also helps to stop about 60% of children from using drugs. Legalisation would pull the rug from under the feet of these parents and remove a powerful sanction. It would also deprive the vast majority of children who don’t want to join their drug-taking friends, of a very valuable excuse.
Children are not miniature adults – their undeveloped brains would signal “Surely the government would not do this if cannabis is harmful” – so legalisation would mean ‘safe’. This is not speculation; it has been proven to happen time and again.
A drastic overhaul of current school drug education is needed to give children the true picture of the dangers of cannabis to which they are entitled. Frank, the official government website for drug information is out of date on cannabis, has huge omissions and misleading statements. The present school drug-education policy is still one of harm reduction – children are given the green light to experiment by tips on ‘safer use’ and also offered ‘informed choice’. Sadly, the brains of children will not fully mature till their 20s and the ‘risk-taking part’ matures before the ‘inhibitory’ area, so reasonable and sensible decisions cannot be guaranteed. The coalition government promised to follow a prevention policy but this has not yet taken place.
The younger a child is when starting to use cannabis, the worse the damage. They are more likely to move on to other drugs, suffer a mental illness or become dependent. Rehabilitation experts have told us that cannabis dependence is THE most challenging to treat. One in 10 people who ever TRY cannabis will become addicted – with teenagers it is one in six.
THC will adversely affect all children. Skunk, now 80% of the market, is many times stronger than the old herbal cannabis of the 1960s-1970s (16.2% THC compared with under 1% , UNODC figs confirm). Because of the persistence of THC in the brain cells for weeks, the brain fails to work normally, essential nerve connections are not made, grades plummet, average IQ can drop by 8 points permanently, aspirations and ambitions become pipedreams. Children fail to mature, often drop out of education, and have difficulty in making the transition to adulthood
Heavy use of THC is known to cause brain damage and very recently damage has also been found in young occasional users.
Children should also be warned that cannabis may act as a gateway drug.
Young people will be at the mercy of parents who use marijuana and drive. Even the day after smoking a joint the ability to drive safely is impaired and the risk of an accident is doubled. If mixed with alcohol, the risk rises 16-fold. In the last 10 years, marijuana-related fatal car crashes have almost tripled across the US.
Pregnant women who use marijuana produce smaller babies who will almost certainly have cognitive and behavioural problems as they grow up, and be more susceptible to some cancers. They can suffer withdrawal symptoms and use marijuana themselves at adolescence. Children deserve a drug-free pregnancy.
The immune system is impaired as THC damages the DNA in new cells. Fewer or abnormal white blood cells make us more vulnerable to disease and fewer sperm may cause infertility. Passive smoking results in THC showing up in hair and urine tests of non-users.
Are people going to be allowed to grow their own marijuana? How many plants? What strength? Will the plants be tested for THC content? How would it be monitored and policed? How on earth will children be protected? They can’t and they won’t be – it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Almost all of the parents in our charity, Cannabis Skunk Sense, have offspring severely affected by cannabis. Some of these children have become psychotic, some diagnosed with schizophrenia and sectioned. Others have died of an overdose after progressing to drugs like heroin, some have committed suicide after suffering depression.
Many parents have also been physically abused. Doors have been slammed on hands, ribs broken, some pushed downstairs, others assaulted. The violence is thought to be due to psychosis. USA Pride (Parent Resources and Information on Drug Education study 194) reported in 2006 that, of those students who admitted threatening someone with a knife, gun or club, or to hit, slap or kick someone in the school year 2005/6, 27% had used marijuana, 7.8% cocaine and 6.2% crystal meth.
The cost of treatment for addiction and mental illness, with no guaranteed cure, would be astronomical.
Once the genie is out of the bottle…
Will the people of Colorado and Washington live to regret this reckless and irresponsible decision? Will their children ever forgive them?
MARY BRETT is a retired biology teacher who is now chair of Cannabis Skunk Sense, a drug prevention charity which is secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cannabis and Children headed by Charles Walker MP. She is a member of the World Federation Against Drugs, was vice-president of Europe Against Drugs, and has given evidence on drugs to the UK’s Home Affairs Select Committee.