My Turn: Legalizing marijuana will endanger state’s children

For the Monitor
Published: 3/16/2019 12:14:52 AM

One reason New Hampshire is such a strong state in which to live and work is because of its robust commitment to safe and healthy communities. I am concerned that the legalization of recreational marijuana will endanger our children and communities’ health and safety. This in turn will impact New Hampshire’s prosperity.

As a former state legislator and father of three sons, I have read the extensive informative reporting, opinion pieces and letters in the Monitor on the subject of marijuana. Despite competing scientific literature of the impacts of marijuana on older adults, available research on the impacts of marijuana use shows that marijuana is especially harmful to children and adolescents, the future of our state’s workforce. Few advocates of legalization have argued that there is no risk to young people.

Substantial evidence indicates that marijuana exposure during youth brain development can cause long-term, potentially permanent, adverse changes in the brain. Research on adolescent brain development indicates that brain maturation proceeds into the mid-, and in the case of males, late-20s. While research is ongoing with new insights being brought forward frequently, it is extremely unwise to legalize a product that may have substantial negative impacts on citizens through the teen and early adult years.

From your reporting, we have learned that the marijuana of the 1970s, which had 3 to 5 percent THC, is long gone. With a growing market for marijuana across the U.S., potency levels of commercialized marijuana products have increased. Now, marijuana flowers have a mean concentration of 18 to 23 percent THC, and edible products up to 68 to 75 percent. Some marijuana dispensaries boast of products that contain up to 99 percent THC. Some of these products, like gummies and chocolate bars, clearly appeal to children. With no research available on the long-term effects of these high-potency products, it is dangerous and just plain bad public policy to allow these products to be sold and marketed to young people in New Hampshire.

Another public health concern in New Hampshire is rampant teen vaping use. An astonishing 41 percent of N.H. high school students reported having used vape products. Among high school students who have used e-cigarettes before, over one-third reported vaping marijuana. Multiple studies have found that youth who try vaping even once have a markedly increased risk of going on to smoke cigarettes and marijuana.

With the Altria Group (the parent company for Philip Morris) purchasing major stakes in both JUUL (the largest U.S. vaping company) and a Canadian cannabis manufacturing firm, access to high-dose marijuana and vaping products to youth under 18 is expected to increase and be widespread. Altria is, if nothing else, very good at marketing.

We can all recall an era when tobacco use was thought not to be harmful. Wouldn’t we all have imposed stiffer warnings, penalties for underage use and other burdens on producers of these products a lot earlier had we known of the dangers they pose? Legalizing marijuana at this stage of knowledge about the impacts of use on health among younger people could cause us these same kinds of problems later on.

Increasing access to marijuana for young people while their brains are developing will negatively impact and can threaten our state’s future. Instead, we should be focused on creating conditions that promote healthy youth. Not only will promoting policy that keeps our young people healthy and productive benefit our state in the short-term, but it will also be more cost-effective for the state than trying to fix problems later in life.

If marijuana is legalized and we later learn definitively that it harms young adults, what then do we do? Can we undo the harm that will have been done to tens of thousands of our younger citizens, our next generation of leaders?

I am aware of what surrounding states have done. But New Hampshire has a long history of doing what is right even if it makes us different. House Bill 481, legalizing marijuana, is a bad idea, given the preponderance of evidence on the negative impact doing so can cause.

(Steve Duprey lives in Concord.)

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