Mary Pat Angelini on NJN: Today’s teenagers seem to be growing up faster than previous generations. Advances in technology have catapulted the use of cell phones and computers from once being solely used as business tools into everyday necessities that define a teen’s world. While this technologically savvy generation will surely benefit from growing up accustomed to these skills, not all of the cultural advances will prove to have a positive influence on our youth. One of the most alarming differences in young adults, as compared to past generations, is their drug use.
According to a 2009 study performed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, while cigarette use among the nation’s teenagers has decreased, the use of marijuana has increased. The federal study on students also reported a higher use of prescription painkillers and a diminishing awareness about the risk of these illicit drugs.
A national survey by the Department of Health and Human Services showed that of the 7.1 million Americans who abuse illegal drugs, more than sixty percent abuse marijuana. With national data already showing softening attitudes and across the board increase for drug use, particularly marijuana, legalizing medical marijuana will lead to a certain and significant increase in marijuana use in New Jersey.
Despite the many studies that highlight the risks of legalizing this drug, the New Jersey Legislature recently voted to legalize medical marijuana in our state. As the Executive Director of a nonprofit agency which provides substance abuse prevention programs to youth in Monmouth County, I know the current struggle teens have with this drug as well as the harmful path that will been paved if the drug is easier to access. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that medical marijuana is one of the causes of an increase in teen marijuana use. According to a recent study, ten of the fifteen states with the highest percentage of teens admitting to smoking marijuana in the last 30 days have lived in states with medical marijuana programs.
However, easier access will soon become a reality in New Jersey now that Governor Jon Corzine has signed A-804 into law. In fact, patients will only have to be 18 years of age to be prescribed medical marijuana, which is the age of many high school seniors. Further, recent amendments to the bill double the amount of marijuana that can be possessed from one ounce to two ounces per month, which means an 18 year old high school senior can legally walk around with 240 joints. In addition, the bill allows “for profit” medical marijuana stores to promote and sell marijuana just like the “pot shops” in California neighborhoods. These medical marijuana dispensaries have also been reported to have led to an increase in robberies and drug abuse in the surrounding areas.
I have long advocated against this bill and strongly feel that legalizing medical marijuana in New Jersey would be a terrible mistake with dire consequences. Further, any state considering medical marijuana should look very closely at the abuse that resulted in California.
In addition to all of the societal consequences, the bill would place a financial burden on the residents of New Jersey by requiring the state to employ the Departments of Health and Senior Services, Agriculture, Law and Public Safety, Health and Senior Services, as well as the New Jersey State Police. It is also troubling that the Legislature and not trained scientists will now decide which medicines are safe treatments for chronic diseases. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which studies and approves all medicines in the United States, has made it very clear that the raw marijuana plant is not medicine. Clearly, taking this authority from scientists and giving it to politicians is a gross bastardization of the process of researching and approving medicines in this country.
In the coming months Governor Chris Christie’s choice for the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services will be required to issue regulations that will govern how this policy is implemented. As such, I urge Governor Christie to direct his appointee for this important role to be mindful of the many dangers associated with this new policy. In addition, I am hopeful that his administration will endeavor to combat the increase in marijuana use among our state’s young people that will likely result from this dramatic shift in New Jersey’s drug policy.
Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini represents New Jersey’s 11th Legislative District.