Pubdate: Thu, 29 Dec 2016
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Sacramento Bee
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


[photo] Gelato marijuana is for sale at Bud and Bloom, a dispensary in
Santa Ana that got a $2 million loan this year from AP Investment Fund, a
private lender that works with marijuana businesses. Allen J. Schaben Los
Angeles Times

Asked whether marijuana should be legal for adults in California, voters
answered with a resounding "yes" in November. But that doesn't mean the
matter is completely settled. And it definitely doesn't mean voters
support marijuana use by minors.

Many questions remain about the drug -- its effect on children and on
drivers, to name just two -- and the answers are only just starting to
trickle in as researchers dig deeper into the public policy ramifications
of making weed widely available.

Take the most recent red flag raised by UC Davis epidemiologist Dr.
Magdalena Cerda.

In a study published this week in JAMA Pediatrics, Cerda's team of
researchers found that teens in Washington state started getting high more
often after voters legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2012. Why?
They were convinced the drug wasn't dangerous anymore.

"Across the country there has been a decreased perception of risk and an
increase in marijuana use among adolescents," Cerda, the study's lead
author and associate director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research
Program, told Reuters.

Among the eighth-graders Cerda's team studied, their "perception of
harmfulness" fell by about 14 percent between 2010 and 2015. Among the
10th-graders, the drop was about 16 percent. That's alarming compared with
teens in states where weed isn't legal for recreational use. Their
perception of harm fell by only 5 to 7 percent, according to the study.

So what does that mean for California, with its newly approved Proposition
64? The answer is unclear, but the Legislature and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom,
who promoted the marijuana ballot initiative, should be closely following
researchers' efforts to find out. The California Medical Association,
which endorsed the initiative, must get involved, too. Given the CMA's
embrace of legalization, physicians have a special duty to get involved in
early education.

Comparing the states isn't necessarily an apples-to-apples exercise.
There's some indication that teens in our state might not gravitate to
weed the way teens in Washington have.

Washington was strict in its attempts to control the distribution of pot.
Even after voters made it legal for medical use in 1998, law enforcement
agencies regularly raided dispensaries well into 2012. California, on the
other hand, was the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use and
decriminalized it, making the drug fairly common for years.

In Colorado, which also legalized recreational weed in 2012, Cerda's team
followed a group of teenagers, too. But the researchers didn't find the
same kind of uptick in use that they did in Washington.

The reason is, again, unclear. But the researchers think it might be
linked to the permissive way Colorado expanded the commercialization of
medical pot in 2009, permitting lots of advertising that kids probably saw
and allowing a large number of dispensaries to open. It was a policy
change that also led to a spike in marijuana poisonings among toddlers and
preteens, even as teenagers stopped seeing the drug as a risky substance.

These are things California must avoid at all costs. A bill by Assemblyman
Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, that would ban ads for marijuana products and
services along state highways is a good start. So is a bill from Sen.
Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, to ban
smoking pot while driving.

But marijuana research is a moving target. For the good of the public --
and the health of children -- policy must keep up.
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