Volume 62, Number 4
October/November 2017

New legal marijuana laws may put teens at greater risk

Marijuana became legal to smoke recreationally in California for adults over the age of 21 on November 9, 2016 when California voters passed Proposition 64—the Adult Use of Marijuana Act—by a margin of 57-43%.

Although it is now legal for California residents to use, possess, share and grow marijuana at home, it is not legal to buy marijuana or a plant unless the buyer obtains either from a dispensary using a medical marijuana card. It is also not legal to bring marijuana onto a plane, even if the flight departs from and lands in a state where it is legal.

The part of the law dealing with purchasing marijuana is scheduled to change in 2018, but the details of how and where sales will be permitted are still being worked out. The deadline for the state to start issuing licenses to sell is January 1, 2018.

Adults cannot smoke or ingest marijuana in public or drive under the influence of the drug although it will eventually be legal at licensed on-site businesses. However, no business will be able to sell alcohol or tobacco as well as marijuana.

Trying to make sense of the regulations is hard enough for adults, but for adolescents who are in the process of making decisions about whether or not to start using marijuana while they are learning to operate motor vehicles, the new laws may also have some unintended but foreseeable consequences.

In 2016, four years after Colorado and Washington approved marijuana legalization in November, 2012 – a study suggested there was no significant change in adolescent marijuana use. Proponents of marijuana legalization in other states seized upon this report and used it to promote legalization in other states, particularly California. Opponents pointed out that a federal survey showed Colorado to be number one in the nation in teen marijuana use prior to legalization and that rates of marijuana poisoning among small children in Colorado increased post-legalization from 25 in 2013 to 47 in 2015, while adult emergency visits for marijuana use increased. Positive drug screens for marijuana at Children’s Hospital in Colorado rose from 146 in 2005 to 639 in 2014.

One expert believes that previous studies are underestimating how many teens are using marijuana because surveys have asked about “smoking” marijuana and did not ask about vaping or edibles, which are increasingly popular among adolescents.

In 2017, University of California researchers reanalyzed survey data and conclude that legalization may change attitudes toward marijuana in a way that encourages adolescent use. They found that legalization was associated with increased cannabis consumption among 8th and 10th graders in Washington but not among 12th graders, nor among Colorado students in 8th, 10th or 12th grades.

In comparing trends in both states to the 45 states without legal marijuana, the UC analysis found that 8th and 10th graders in Washington believed there was less risk posed by marijuana use than in Colorado. After legalization, Colorado 8th graders who believe marijuana poses a moderate risk fell from 74.9 percent to 60.7 percent, while 10th graders fell from 62.8 percent to 46.6 percent. Researchers believe the difference between Washington and Colorado can be explained by the fact that, “Washington had a very developed medical marijuana dispensary system prior to legalization, with substantial advertising, to which youth were already exposed,” while Colorado did not.

It seems that California’s medical marijuana system was very much like that of Washington and our state should expect a similar decrease in view of risk along with an increase in the percentage of adolescents using marijuana in any form (smoking, vaping or edibles).

Another issue with teens is that they start driving in 10th grade. Recent data suggests that marijuana legalization corresponds to an increase in motor vehicle accidents as measured by increase in insurance claims.

Marijuana and operating a motor vehicle

As of today, no amount of detectable marijuana is permitted if a law enforcement office requests a test following a traffic stop. The mere presence of marijuana metabolites in a collected sample can result in a DUI for marijuana. Because marijuana is detectable in the human body long after the effects of the drug are gone, this poses a significant problem for drivers who test positive.

Colorado, Oregon and Washington report an increase of three percent more motor vehicle collision claims than would have been expected without marijuana legalization, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute. This study reported that more drivers in crashes admitted to using marijuana.

A fourteen percent higher rate of costs for collision claims was reported in a study comparing Colorado, Washington and Oregon to adjacent states (Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming) without legalized recreational marijuana, with Colorado having the largest estimated increase.

For teenagers, the likelihood of having an accident is already increased as evidenced by the higher insurance rates we pay for our children. If they are using marijuana, they are even more likely to have accidents. If they have accidents they are more likely to be tested for drugs and alcohol. If they test positive they will lose their license until they are 21 years old.

If you think your teenager is developing a problem with marijuana, or with any substance including alcohol or other drugs, do not hesitate to call the Teamsters Assistance Program (TAP) at 800-253- 8326 or the Teamsters Alcohol/Drug Rehabilitation Program (TARP) at 800-522-8277. If you are unsure whether or not your Health and Welfare medical plan includes TAP or TARP services, call your Local or your Teamster Trust Fund.

Call TARP (Teamsters Alcohol/Drug Rehabilitation Program) at (800) 522-8277 or TAP (Teamsters Assistance Program) at (800) 253-8326 if you or a loved one would like more information on this subject or our services.