Teens struggle with mixed messages for marijuana use


Photo courtesy of Nate Bruzdzinski/CU Independent

Graschelle Hipoloto, Sports Editor

With the current debate over the legalization of marijuana sweeping across the country, confusion and mixed signals are not uncommon amongst teenagers.

Colorado and Washington have legalized the use of recreational cannabis, and 19 others states, including Maryland, Arizona and California, have legalized it for medical purposes.  In some states, criminal penalties have been withdrawn for the possession of a limited amount of the drug.

For a generation who grew up with the mantra “Just say no” to drugs, some students are confused about whether or not the legalization justifies drug use and relays the message “just say yes” instead.

Senior Jacob Williams agrees that teens today have received mixed messages about the effects of marijuana use — not only its health effects, but also its legality.

“It’s okay to use marijuana,” Williams said.  “The fact is that it is not nearly as harmful as prohibitionists have made it out to be, but if you’re going to use it, you need to give kids access to reliable information and education about its effects.”

Williams said that he has researched the topic on his own for the past four years because he does not trust the government to provide accurate information.

“This is a health issue and scientists, doctors, and health experts should be weighing in,” Williams said, “not politicians.”

In his research, Williams said he learned that in spite of some government claims that marijuana kills brain cells or causes cancer, this information is not supported by science.  Still, Williams says that kids may experience harmful effects from the drug because their brains are still developing and are vulnerable to exposure from drugs.  Williams said he believes the biggest health risk to most people is respiratory, as inhalation of the drug can cause damage to the respiratory system, especially the small cilia in the lungs.

Williams also said students today may be confused because although many states have legalized the drug, it still remains illegal at the federal level.

Another level of confusion comes from parents who may oppose the idea of their children using the drug, even though they support the legalization of marijuana.

“My dad and my mom both used to smoke marijuana,” said junior Samantha Calloni, who explains that her parents have been clean for about 30 years.  “They’re not really opposed to it, but with me being so young, their view is that they don’t want me to do it because it really sucks your whole life away.”

On the other side of the spectrum, some parents who are prescribed marijuana for medical purposes may have a different opinion regarding teenage exposure to the drug.

“My dad swears up and down that his marijuana usage is strictly medical,” junior Davian Perkins said.  “My parents tell me not to do [marijuana] because it could become an addiction and when that happens, it takes your attention off of academics, friends, and family.”

Many teenagers have reevaluated their views on marijuana legalization, especially as more and more states attempt to legalize it for recreational use.

“My parents and I believe that it would be wise if marijuana had the same restrictions as alcohol where you have to be 21 or older and can be restricted on how much you have so you don’t get too high or overdose,” Calloni said.

In April, Nevada announced that marijuana legalization will be on the 2016 ballot with Arizona targeted afterward.  The nation’s largest marijuana advocacy group, the Marijuana Policy Project, have worked to put marijuana legalization on the 2016 California ballot.

“A lot can change in two years,” Perkins said.  “My vote will depend on the circumstances that the law presents at that time.”

Williams suggests the documentaries “The Union: The Business Behind Getting High” directed by Brett Harvey and “Marijuana: A Chronic History” written by Brodie Ransom and Rick Silver, along with the book “Marihuana Reconsidered” by Lester Grinspoon if students want more unbiased information.