Understanding proposed marijuana laws and what they could mean for our teens

COMMUNITY FORUM REPORT

Understanding proposed marijuana laws and what they could mean for our teens

April 26, 2012 — The decriminalization of marijuana has failed youth by appearing to license pot use, a forum at Brookline High School heard in a vigorous debate on proposed new marijuana laws in Massachusetts.

The event, Understanding proposed marijuana laws: the pros and cons & how they might affect our teens, was hosted by B-CASA. It was attended by more than 70 people, including parents, students, BHS faculty, police, social workers and other youth-serving professionals.

Marijuana use among teens in Brookline is higher than the national average and on the increase, as revealed by the Brookline Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2011. Drug awareness education for offenders under age 18 is proving ineffective, with police issuing warnings instead of tickets, the forum heard.
A new bill brought by Bruce Tarr, Gloucester-based Senate Minority Leader, seeks to address some of the effects of the 2008 decriminalization of marijuana. Forum speaker Detective Sean Conners of the Healthy Gloucester Collaborative, who has been instrumental in shaping the new legislation, argued that decriminalization has put teens at greater risk. The Tarr Bill would make possession a misdemeanor and impose penalties on a par with alcohol for those under 21. Convictions would carry fines and the loss of driving licenses, DAs would have flexibility regarding diversion and treatment programs in lieu of prosecution, and first offenders could have cases dismissed and records sealed upon completing a pretrial probation.

Other speakers addressed the issue of medical marijuana. Further legislation, supported by more than 1,200 licensed Massachusetts physicians, would legalize medical marijuana subject to strict regulations, according to Amanda Rositano, staff director for the office of Brookline State Rep. Frank Smizik, who has introduced the bill.

Penalties for fraud and misuse would go beyond what is currently in place. Dispensaries would be limited to nineteen throughout the state, Ms. Rositano said, which would be considered non-profit treatment centers. The proposal is based on decades of research showing the positive effects of marijuana on a variety of medical conditions. While proposal advocates do not condone youth use of medical marijuana, she said, some studies have found a decrease in youth use and greater perception of risk following the approval of medical marijuana in some states.

Opponents of the bill, however, argue it could put youth at increased risk of marijuana access and abuse. Heidi Ludwig, president of the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance and Coordinator of the Wayland Prevention Coalition, warned the Brookline forum of potential pitfalls, including the increased opportunity for growing marijuana legally, conflict with anti-smoking practices and laws, the additional burdens it would place on the Massachusetts Department of Health, and the risk of increased access to youth.

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