January 30, 2012—A review of alcohol and drug use surveys in states where voters may legalize marijuana this November shows young people’s alcohol use is about double their marijuana use. Why? Alcohol is legal, widely distributed, and widely sold. Marijuana is not. Worse, the number of young people who initiate use at age 14 or younger is two to three times greater for alcohol than marijuana. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health finds that children who begin using marijuana at such young ages are six times more likely to become addicted to marijuana than those who start in their 20s.
Most of the proposed legalization initiatives are designed to regulate marijuana like alcohol. But data clearly show an age limit will not prevent underage marijuana use any more that the drinking age prevents underage alcohol use. Most initiatives charge legislators with developing regulations to govern the production and sale of legalized marijuana. It will be up to them to find ways to prevent a commercial marijuana industry from targeting children and adolescents as customers, like the alcohol industry does. National Families in Action (NFIA) has proposed 12 provisions to achieve this goal. Most are designed to force producers, distributors, and retail stores to self-regulate by imposing industry-wide penalties if any one of them gives or sells marijuana to young people.
Proponents insist that legalization will make it harder for kids to get pot. Those who understand economics say otherwise. RAND, for example, estimates that if California legalizes marijuana its price will fall by 80 percent and use will double. RAND estimates that if marijuana were regulated like alcohol, California would have 8,000 marijuana retail outlets—four times the number of Starbuck’s in the state.
Legalization initiatives are working their way to the 2012 ballots in California, Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, and Washington. Citizens who care about children should insist that state legislators include NFIA’s provisions in any regulations they write to govern legal pot. Nine months remain to carry this message to legislators.