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Legalising cannabis is not the way we should go
Bay of Plenty Times, Tauranga Bay of Plenty  07 Oct 2017
General News - page 15 - 932 words - ID 855808688 - Photo: No - Type: News Item - Size: 458.00cm2

Guest View: Dan Allen-Gordon

FELT I needed to share the impact of cannabis on our children with the growing Ilegalise marijuana argument that is often driven by those that are unaware of facts and evidence that is often not mentioned.

People, including some in the media, often confuse medical marijuana and cannabis. While medical marijuana has real benefits for those suffering, due to cannabadiol (CBD) it does not have the psychoactive substance - tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that cannabis has.

Fifteen to 20 years ago THC levels in cannabis were 3 per cent and now they're 20 to 30 per cent, which is causing our kids to disconnect from school and families and not achieving their potential.

I hear people talk about surveys that are pro legalising cannabis, but don't hear evidence from long term clinical studies being used to promote the cause.

I'm not sure about the groups used or the accuracy of surveys people seem to refer to, but if New Zealand wants to get a good picture of the impact of cannabis on our kids then we should survey all the youth workers, guidance councillors and deans in our colleges, then people will know that kids on cannabis can be absent, aggressive, depressed and represent a high percentage of those dropping out of school.

One argument some have for legalising cannabis is to compare it with other substances, when we really should be making decisions based on whether it is good or bad for society.

For example, alcohol is a major problem for our youth and it's legal.

There are a number of misconceptions regarding legalisation.

Some believe it would be controlled and taxed, fewer young people would be able to use it and gangs would no longer push weed through the black market.

To bring some light on the impacts of cannabis on our kids I'd like to share some research from US states that were the earliest to legalise cannabis almost four years ago, Colorado and Washington State.

In Colorado there has been a 30 per cent increase in expulsions from schools, nearly 100 per cent increase in drug related deaths on the road and now the state has to spend $100 million a year on addressing cannabis-related issues for youth alone.

Rather than gain money from taxes through a cannabis industry, what's happening in US states shows the social and financial cost would be much bigger.

I also don't believe gangs will change the way they manage cannabis. Gangs don't have the overheads that a legalised industry would have, no leases, wages or paying taxes, they only need to increase production in a growing market.

According to a paper, published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal, youths who smoke marijuana on a daily basis are also 60 per cent less likely to finish high school.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine recently revised its policy statement regarding marijuana. In addition to opposing the drug's legalisation, the organisation recommended that states that have sanctioned the drug's use discontinue sales of marijuana to anyone under the age of 25.

Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy adviser and president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) gets straight to the point about Colorado's youth pot use: "Now that Coloradans have legalised and widely commercialised marijuana, their children use marijuana regularly - and more than children in any other state," he said. "In Colorado especially, Big Marijuana has been allowed to run wild, and it appears kids there are paying the price more than in any other state in the country." The District of Columbia, which has joined other states in sanctioning marijuana also ranked high on the national listing: D.C. (4th), Oregon (5th) and Washington state (6th).

Daily marijuana use below age 18 is connected to seven times the risk of attempted suicide before age 30.

Marijuana is the most likely drug of abuse for teens. Any substance abuse - marijuana, alcohol, opiates, other drugs or a combination - generally makes the depression more difficult to overcome.

Where our New Zealand youth suicide figure just released is over 16 per 100,000, in Washington State it's over 19 per 100,000.

We know that self-harming and substance use is a way to have a feeling other than the pain one is going through. However, studies show regular cannabis use can only compound the mental health issues for young people and at times tip them over the edge.

Our kids unfortunately just think weed makes them happy without making the connection to the damage caused to their brains that affects their behaviour and choice making afterwards. The more our kids use to make them happy the sadder I see them become.

I for one would be fearful for our kids should cannabis be legalised.

I would rather we have a positive approach to child and youth development, and see a lot less risk taking from young people in the programmes we deliver in the Graeme Dingle Foundation and a few other awesome well run programmes.

Positive youth development happens when our kids feel connected and supported, with good parent support and the right long term programmes and initiatives there is less need for kids to search for something to make them happy.

Prevention they say is always better than cure, and building resilience and self-belief in children is really the key while giving parents the tools they need to grow healthy, happy kids.

Dan Allen-Gordon is the regional manager for the Graeme Dingle Foundation Bay of Plenty.

"The more our kids use [marijuana] to make them happy the sadder I see them become."

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