Shows like The Sopranos, Shameless and Breaking Bad portray crime (or just plain bad behavior) in a glamorous light.
Movies like Fast and Furious portray reckless driving as an adventure. To impressionable young minds, that’s exciting stuff; being bad and breaking the law.
What teenager doesn’t push the boundaries of the system? Some, more than others, to be sure, but testing boundaries and limits is a part of growing up. It is for many, a rite of passage in the literal sense that they are following in the footsteps of the older kids they once looked up to. The cool big sister or the tough big brother, whose exploits are legendary in the local arcade or city park.
Legalizing Marijuana removes that element from the equation of teens trying pot.
And the numbers bear this out. The fact is, in states where marijuana has been either decriminalized or legalized, teen use rates drop. For starters, in places where it’s legal, one can simply walk into a shop, provide age verification and make a purchase. The profit motive for street dealers no longer exists. The criminal aspect, the excitement of “the score”, no longer applies.
Addict after addict involved in hard drugs like Heroin or Meth, will confess that just the process of scoring illegal drugs is a high in itself. The danger of getting caught, the subterfuge of the transactions, the clever code words and cool phrases, can be a siren song of glory and street cred to the teenager looking to show they, too, are a grown up.
I see it all the time in court, often with tragic results. A young kid, often no more than a child themselves, getting caught up in the world of the illicit drug trade. The consequences to that person can be life long, and even worse, life ending.
But legal marijuana becomes… passe’ to the teenager simply looking for thrills. The teenager who sadly may be “preconditioned” to believe that crime is the way to prove themselves to their peers, will not get much props for a ‘drug’ that can be bought at a store down the street, openly and without shame.
Study after study shows that legalization, coupled with education and honest dialogue between parents, teachers and their kids, can work near miracles in reducing the incidences of teen crime. And not just marijuana related arrests. Crime rates overall tend to drop, because the violence and other criminal activity associated with drug dealing is eliminated from the equation when talking about marijuana, itself the most non-violent of all recreational substances.
Suddenly the dealer who also sells hard drugs, is no longer selling marijuana, and anyone buying marijuana will have a far lesser risk of being exposed to those harder drugs as a result. In that sense, all drugs are gateway drugs, but marijuana simply does not have to be one of them. It’s illegal status is the only real, provable causation for access to harder drugs, and the curiosity to try them.
If a teen tries pot, and finds out they were lied to about it being the devils weed from hell itself, they will no longer believe what you tell them about truly dangerous drugs like Heroin. “Hey pot wasn’t near as bad as they said it was, heroin must be okay, too.”
The vast majority of marijuana smokers have never even felt the desire to experiment with drugs like heroin. Anti-marijuana folks want to claim that smoking marijuana in itself leads to other drug use, but the statistics simply do not bear that out at all. In fact, in the case of alcohol use, marijuana legalization seems to have the opposite effect, as studies now show in legal states like Colorado, alcohol use actually drops and is instead replaced by marijuana, as opposed to combining the two.
There are burdens of proof in any legal case, and by those standards, the anti-marijuana folks do not have a leg to stand on. Research overwhelmingly shows the effects of marijuana use to be minimal in the extreme. As for being “dangerous” and a potential cause of death, as tired as you might be of hearing it, I’m just as tired of having to say it: Alcohol and tobacco, both legal, killed more people in the past six months than marijuana has in the past 200 years.
But what about the children?
Yes, the children are very important. I know because I have 3 of them living in my home, and rest assured, none of them will be trying pot before they are 21– whether or not it’s legalized. You see, I talk to my kids. I want them to have as much information as possible, because I imagine one day they will be old enough to drink alcohol, so like it or not, when they turn 21, I can only hope the lessons my wife and I teach them will keep them from abusing alcohol.
I also imagine that they will have moments when they have to make a decision to try alcohol (or pot) for the first time, whether or not they are legally old enough to do so.
By removing the glamour, the decision becomes a heck of a lot easier for them. They will not feel the level of peer pressure than can come with, “What’s the matter, are you chicken?”
They will feel confident saying, “No thank you”, because they are aware of the facts, and can make a sound decision without being the uncool kid. And let’s face it, there are grandmothers smoking marijuana these days. It’s kind of hard to make a case for pot smoking being, over the top cool, when Nana can pick up some Purple Haze at the local pot store.
Now of course the case of edibles has been brought up. “It’s candy! Kids love candy!”
That problem is as easy to solve as regulated packaging. They do it now with advertising cigarettes.
Remember Joe Camel?
If you really want to save the teenagers, maybe we should stop disrupting their lives by arresting their parents and older siblings for smoking a little weed? And just like Colorado, put that tax revenue to work educating them, instead of setting them up for incarceration.