Pediatricians Want Pot Decriminalized
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Pediatricians Want Pot Decriminalized


There’s a lot of scientific evidence that pot fries your brain. While the issue is hotly contested among those favoring legalization—and the stoners of the world—research has concluded that it’s especially bad news for young minds.

Kids and adolescents are the most susceptible to permanent cognitive (brain) damage from smoking joints, sucking on a water bong or even inhaling Grade A weed through a medical vaporizer. So it makes sense that some support the fact that non-medical pot is still criminalized in the majority of US states.

But pediatricians don’t think this is the best solution; the American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a new policy in which they encourage the decriminalization of weed, hoping to stop the arrests of minors and keep kids out of custody. They claim that adolescent use of marijuana is not a criminal justice issue but a public health concern. But at the same time that they’re saying they don’t want kids carrying backpacks full of bud to end up in handcuffs, they are discouraging legalization, as this would make it easier for kids to score.

It seems paradoxical, but it’s a lot like cigarettes—it’s illegal for a minor to buy them, but in almost all cases they can’t be arrested and thrown in juvie or fined, unless, that is, they whip out a fake ID or have a bunch of priors. In these cases, whoever sold the tobacco to the minor is the one in deep legal shit.

The Docs Weigh In

The brains behind the new policy from the American Association of Pediatricians, Dr. Seth Ammerman of Stanford University, says cuffing kids who toke won’t do them a bit of good. He also adds that legalization won’t do the kids any good either, and he’s extra worried about potential marketing ploys by marijuana companies that might persuade kids to smoke. Just imagine Justin Beiber sucking from a pipe in a commercial aired during The Voice—not exactly the best way to get kids off the weed. He also advises pediatricians stop doling out medical marijuana prescriptions for kids until further research is done to double-confirm it’s not harmful to them.

Brendan Solaner, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says, “The biggest concern here is edibles—candies and cookies can look really appealing to kids and adolescents.” Imagining weed-filled Double Stuff Oreos is particularly frightening—you’ve got a whole generation of kids hopped up on sugar and marijuana! Their poor teachers.

Mixed Messages

The legalization movement puts kids in a weird spot. On one hand, advocates are insisting there are no harmful effects from smoking weed, and on the other, pediatricians and researchers have learned—if only through preliminary studies—that weed can damage developing brains.

Dr. Leslie Walker, chief of the adolescent medicine division at Seattle Children’s Hospital agrees. “People make arguments that say, ‘Oh, this is safer than alcohol, it’s safer than tobacco, it’s safer than heroin,'” she says. “[But] marijuana on its own is harmful for adolescents.”

She’s got a point. Smoking cigarettes may be better than smoking meth, and eating deep-fried Twinkies might be better than smoking cigarettes, but using the lesser of two evils argument doesn’t render cigarettes and deep-fried Twinkies innocuous—nor does it make marijuana safe.

Doctor’s Orders

The docs recommend that parents explain the risks of smoking weed and discourage use, even if they smoke it. Uh, yeah, that’s kind of a joke. Teens are notoriously skilled at taking sane advice from their parents and teachers and tossing it aside in favor of getting high, drunk or just intentionally pissing their elders off.

While advocates arguing for the legalization of pot say weed is harmless, we all know that when it’s legalized everywhere, more adolescents are going to have access and more will become addicted and potentially brain-damaged. No matter how vociferously they argue, this isn’t going to help create sharp, educated, well-balanced adults.

Maybe a Surgeon General label that reads POT CAN CAUSE BRAIN DAMAGE IN MINORS—USE A LOT IF YOU WANT TO RUN THE RISK OF BEING STUPID will solve the problem.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.