‘Marijuana Bowl’ Buzz not so Super

When teams hailing from Denver and Seattle solidified spots at Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVII, it wasn’t just talk of two No. 1 seeds duking it out or even Richard Sherman’s antics, but the states’ recreational marijuana sales policies that got the online world buzzing about the “Marijuana Bowl.”

Even the U-T San Diego polled readers online positing: “Should California legalize pot to help the Chargers get to the Super Bowl?” Some even took to social media with memes depicting a football with green laces in the shape of a pot leaf.  It’s getting such laughs that one might be quick to dismiss the documented harms of marijuana use, particularly among teens.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM, a national alliance of organizations and individuals dedicated to a health-first approach to marijuana policy, recently presented on the outcomes of Colorado’s policy, starting with legalizing marijuana for medical use in 2001.  The presentation focused on the years from 2006 to 2012, a span of time when the number of dispensaries grew to 532, thereby vastly increasing the access and availability of marijuana.

During that time, the use of marijuana among teens spiked, while the perception of harm plummeted significantly. In fact, marijuana use among Colorado teens is currently fifth in the nation — 10.7 percent compared with the national average of 7.6 percent, the report found. Drug-related referrals for high school students testing positive for marijuana increased 150 percent.

Diversion to young people was also commonplace. About 74 percent of Denver teens in drug treatment said they used someone else’s medical marijuana card an average of 50 times, according to SAM. Of serious public safety concern; Colorado traffic fatalities involving drivers testing positive for marijuana rose by 112 percent between 2006 and 2011.

Despite these public health and safety issues, as well as the Colorado State Auditor showing poor regulation or none at all, voters proceeded to legalize the drug for recreational use. But local governments in Colorado seem to understand they foot the bill for public safety — four of the 10 largest cities in Colorado have opted to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana, and five others have moratoriums.

Today, nine more states, including California, could be facing recreational legalization initiatives on the ballot by 2016. Despite these steps toward legalization, San Diego County continues to succeed in pushing back against the pro-pot movement.

In 2012, voters across San Diego rejected ballot propositions in various cities to zone marijuana dispensaries where they are currently banned, and Californians defeated Proposition 19 to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

On a local level, the North Coastal Prevention Coalition (NCPC) recently led an evaluation of its efforts to counter pro-marijuana influences between 2004 and 2012. Conducted in partnership with California State University San Marcos, and funded through the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Service to Science Initiative, the evaluation compared student survey data from NCPC’s region and other areas of California.

The bad news — marijuana use in the past 30 days and over a lifetime increased in all regions studied from 2004 to 2010. The good news — the increase was significantly less in NCPC’s region, where the reported ease of access declined. Implementing a comprehensive set of strategies developed in collaboration with the HARM Initiative (Health Advocates Rejecting Marijuana) reduced the retail availability of drug paraphernalia and marijuana, as well as community and media messages that trivialized marijuana use.

One example of an effective strategy aimed at public events pushed a vendor policy prohibiting the sale of “tobacco, tobacco/drug paraphernalia, or any item that promotes the use of illicit drugs.” First adopted by Oceanside Harbor Days, the policy is now implemented at more than 20 events countywide, including the San Diego County Fair. These 20 North County events have an annual attendance of more than 2 million people.

Ultimately, we’re fighting for the health and public safety of San Diego County residents through comprehensive public policies, but it will take collective action to make it last.  The voices of our community leaders make a world of difference in the lives of so many. While it might be amusing to some, the downplaying of illegal drug use influences young people to falsely believe its harmless.

It’s crucial now, more than ever, that we stand firm rather than punt on the well-being of adolescents in San Diego County and throughout California.

Pearson, a Carlsbad resident, is vice president of the North Coastal Prevention Coalition, www.northcoastalpreventioncoalition.org

Source: http://www.utsandiego.com/   30th Jan. 2014

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