Currently, New Jersey leaders are considering legalizing the sale and possession of marijuana in addition to permitting the cultivation of marijuana in a person’s home.
The lessons being learned in Colorado make it clear that legalizing marijuana is a dangerous proposal that will negatively affect the health and wellness of New Jersey residents. Legalization of medical and recreational marijuana has caused youth to develop low perceptions of risk towards marijuana use. This is being exacerbated by the changing social acceptance and increased visibility and availability through open use by adults and older peers. States like Colorado, which have legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana use, have the highest rates of youth and adult marijuana use in the nation.
When we hear reports that many New Jersey residents favor legalization, that does not take into account that most people only want to be sure that youth do not receive a criminal record for simple possession. Decriminalization is that solution — not legalization. Decriminalization will allow New Jersey to formalize the process for possession cases and require that youth in possession of marijuana be sent for education or treatment options in order to deter future use rather than being arrested.
Pro-marijuana groups are dodging any form of decriminalization and package the only solution to be legalization of marijuana, which would open an industry that will promote a dangerous addictive drug to our youth and our most vulnerable populations.
The public has been told that marijuana is a mellow, nonthreatening substance that is essentially harmless to individuals and communities. Scientific evidence, however, has proven this perception to be untrue. Marijuana actually slows the user’s reaction time; hinders short-term memory; and impairs hand-eye coordination, concentration, and the perception of time and distance. This effect propels devastating consequences.
Drivers who test positive for marijuana are two times as likely to be involved in a car accident. In Colorado, there was a 32 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths from 2013 to 2014. Science has also shown that marijuana use under the age of 25, when the frontal cortex is still developing, has long-term and permanent negative impacts on a youth’s developing brain — causing changes in brain anatomy as well as impairing motivation, attention, learning and memory. The addiction rate for youth marijuana users is one in six. For adults, it’s one in 10.
Marijuana is not a harmless substance. The tetrahydrocannabinol levels in marijuana are three times higher than they were in 1983 and the potency levels of marijuana derivatives and edibles can have up to 80 to 90 percent THC. Colorado has also seen an increase in marijuana-related emergency room visits, treatment admissions and youth poisonings due to marijuana intoxication from popular edibles like marijuana cookies, brownies, candies and lollipops. These edible products, along with traditional forms of marijuana, are being marketed in a manner that mirrors the false advertising of Big Tobacco, which markets tobacco and electronic cigarettes to our youth and adults as a harmless product.
Evidence of the growing Big Marijuana market can currently be seen in New Jersey. This market proficiently taps into the rising vape shop retail popularity that is sprouting statewide, marketing and selling delivery systems that are proving to be attractive and available to youth and adults for not only nicotine but also marijuana use.
We encourage both lawmakers and communities to consider the scientific research and lessons learned from Colorado and protect our youth and communities from the damaging effects of legalization. When taking the risks and negative impacts of legalization into account, it is clear that the legalization of marijuana is not the solution to help communities in New Jersey.
Diane Litterer is CEO and executive director of the New Jersey Prevention Network.