Dear Marijuana Prohibitionists: Please Think of the Children!

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Dear Marijuana Prohibitionists: Please Think of the Children! by Jay Stooksberry

Helen Lovejoy, the gossipy preacher’s wife from The Simpsons, is one of the most influential figures on American politics. It’s not because she is particularly thoughtful, but rather because she popularized the most commonly used defense against any controversial topic: “Won’t somebody please think of the children!”

In a recent column (“New-look marijuana products threaten Colorado youngsters”), Rachel O’Bryan of Smart Colorado is doing her best Lovejoy impersonation. O’Bryan decries the Colorado experiment in marijuana legalization, warning that increased access to high-THC products is wreaking irreparable havoc on today’s young people. In a separate column, she urges other states toying with legalization to reconsider: “The Colorado experiment is failing our children.”

This hyperbolic appeal to emotion falls flat in the face of actual evidence. Marijuana use by young people is actually declining in Colorado since the passing of Amendment 64. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nine percent of Colorado teenagers (ages 12 to 17) used marijuana on a frequency basis between 2015 and 2016. This is a significant drop in use in comparison to its peak in of 12 percent between 2013 and 2014—right when Amendment 64 went into action allowing for the commercial sale of recreational marijuana. Colorado has actually dropped from number one in the United States in adolescent marijuana use to number seven in the matter of a few years. Despite the claims of Chicken Littles like O’Bryan, the proverbial sky didn’t fall in Colorado.

O’Bryan’s concerns about adolescent addiction are warranted, especially considering that drug abuse can cause significant cognitive problems for developing minds. However, if concerned about addiction, O’Bryan should actually embrace legalization, because the policy encourages those who need help to actually seek it out. Rather than continue to hide in the shadows of the black market, those struggling with addiction won’t fear legal reprisal or the shame of being labeled a “junkie” in the realm of legalization.

What once fell into the purview of law enforcement can now be handled by health professionals. Carolyn Swanson, director of SBIRT Colorado, a drug and alcohol abuse prevention program, explains the benefit of removing this stigma in an article published in Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

“School nurses tell me they’re seeing an increase in students who voluntarily seek help with their marijuana use and they seem to be the same kids that were having trouble before marijuana was legalized,” Swenson states in the article. “The difference is that they’re more open about it now. There’s less secrecy. And they’re not hiding the reasons they feel sick.” Isn’t this exactly what we want from young people—to tell an adult if they have a problem? If so, then why wouldn’t we maintain the environment of openness that legalization has fostered?

If we wish to impart any wisdom upon young people, it is this: Take responsibility and admit when a mistake is made.

We especially need to do heed this advice when it comes to our history of misguided and heavy-handed policies—particularly those that deal with the legality of what individuals can and cannot put in their bodies. Our prohibitionist policies of the past—the Twenty-First Amendment that banned alcohol in the early 20th century and our current War on Drugs that has raged on since the 1970s—failed in their primary objectives: eradicating addiction to the substances they tried to ban. To make matters worse, these disastrous policies produced the unintended consequences of empowering violent black markets, as well as the further victimization, stigmatization, and alienation of those most vulnerable in society.

One of those vulnerable groups is young people. And the only environment where young people can get help is one that is centered on legalization, acceptance, and treatment—not prohibition, fearmongering, and moralizing.

Won’t Rachel O’Bryan please think of the children!

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If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Lance Cayko at 303.775.7406 or email at

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