Pubdate: Thu, 04 Aug 2016
Source: Chico News & Review, The (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Chico Community Publishing, Inc.
Author: Evan Tuchinsky


Legalizing Recreational Cannabis May Have Varying Implications for 
Health of Kids and Teens

Come November, California could join Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and 
Washington by becoming a state where adults can legally buy, possess 
and use cannabis recreationally as well as medically.

What would this mean for kids and teens? We now may have an idea.

Colorado was the first of these states (plus the District of 
Columbia) to enact laws calling for such blanket legalization, 
passing Amendment 64 in 2012. Two recent reports focused on 
Colorado-one on teenage use, one on kids' accidental ingestion-offer 
a mixed picture.

The report on teens, released July 20 in the 2015 Healthy Kids 
Colorado Survey from the state's public health department, shows 
marijuana use among teenagers has not increased since legalization. 
In fact, the research shows it has decreased, from 25 percent in 2009 
to 21 percent, just below the national average.

The report on children, published July 25 in the medical journal JAMA 
Pediatrics, shows the number of visits to emergency rooms and calls 
to poison control centers about children ingesting edibles-products 
such as baked goods and candies-has risen 150 percent since 2014.

California has allowed medicinal use of marijuana, under Proposition 
215, since 1996; currently, 24 other states have similar laws. 
Advocates of full, statewide legalization have put forth an 
initiative for the Nov. 8 ballot.

Proposition 64, known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), would 
allow adults 21 and over to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis and 
grow up to six plants; impose a 15 percent tax on sales, directed to 
a specific fund mainly for youth treatment and outreach services; 
downgrade legal penalties; impose packaging and labeling 
requirements; and legalize hemp.

Dr. Amanda Reiman is manager of the Marijuana Law and Policy for the 
Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit that's one of Prop 64's backers. In 
a phone interview, she said those who drafted the initiative 
"definitely considered early adopters" such as Colorado and 
Washington. Among the lessons: including regulatory provisions for 
packaging that safeguards children and clear labeling. Prop 64 also 
dictates strict penalties for selling to anyone underage.

Even so, the prospect of legalization concerns some children's health 

Dr. Ejaz Ahmed, a Chico pediatrician, draws distinctions between 
medicinal use and recreational use, as well as use in children and 
adults. Also, akin to tobacco, he's worried not just about direct 
intake but also the secondhand-smoke effect.

Ahmed acknowledges the therapeutic uses for marijuana, citing relief 
for chronic pain, appetite stimulation for chronic debilitating 
diseases (such as AIDS and various cancers) and muscle-spasm control 
for multiple sclerosis. However, he also understands cognitive 
growth: A child's brain continues to develop into his or her 20s, and 
habits modeled by parents can set patterns for life.

As such, he said by phone, "I don't see it changing in the future 
that the American Academy of Pediatrics would ever support using 
marijuana until the age of 21. So I advise parents who are using ... 
be very careful. They might not see it today, but they don't want 
their children to pick up their behavior ... and we don't know what 
the outcome will be for those children."

The recent reports on youth and cannabis have drawn particular 
interest because Colorado, with several years of history, offers the 
largest and most scientifically valid population to research. 
Regarding teens, Reiman says a dozen studies have yielded similar 
findings: no increases in the number or frequency of teens using marijuana.

"In some places, we've even seen a slight decrease in use," said 
Reiman, whose doctorate is in social welfare. "So it's safe to say 
that legalization does not result in an increase in teen use."

Reiman says legalization decreases access due to "illicit sources 
drying up" and legal vendors requiring proof of age for purchases. 
Also, the youthful sense of rebellion tends to diminish when a 
behavior gets normalized-moved from the underground into the 
mainstream, stripped of the "cachet" of doing something forbidden.

"Once we see adults no longer have to hide it, we're going to see 
young people losing interest in it," Reiman said. "Of course, the 
Drug Policy Alliance does not advocate for the use of cannabis by 
those under 21, unless for a specific medical purpose, but we do feel 
the regulations like those proposed in Prop 64 will be more effective 
at keeping cannabis out of the hands of teens seeking to access it 
than prohibition."

As for the report about children accidentally ingesting cannabis, 
Reiman pointed to findings that 75 percent of the toddlers and 
youngsters whose parents brought them to the hospital or called 
poison control either had no side effects, minor side effects, 
minimal side effects or side effects unrelated to marijuana.

"Of course, it doesn't downplay that some children have had some 
major effects," she said.

Preventing such accidents motivated the push for child-proof 
packaging and clear labels in Prop 64.

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey shows another possible upside to 
legalization. Before 2012, just 19 percent of Colorado parents 
indicated a willingness to reach out to health professionals or 
poison control should their child ingest cannabis; that figure now is 
56 percent.

Ahmed still has reservations. A pediatrician for 30 years, 18 spent 
locally, he doesn't want more minors exposed to the drug, 
particularly because he's seen multiple teen patients escalate from 
cannabis use into hard drug addiction.

"I hope that we are all on the same page," he said, "making sure we 
are making an environment safe for our young kids and the growing generation."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom