TRENTON, N.J. – As New Jersey inches closer to legal recreational marijuana sales, Assemblymen Erik Simonsen and Antwan McClellan are sounding the alarm on the potential danger the new industry presents to young people. They have introduced a bill requiring students in grades 3 through 12 to be educated on the risks of the drug’s use.
The bill (A785) specifies that schools must include age-appropriate instruction in substance abuse education.
“There is a real and understandable concern that young people’s perception of marijuana will be negatively influenced by adults’ acceptance of the drug’s recreational use,” said Simonsen (R-Cape May), who is also the athletic director of Lower Cape May Regional High School. “Marijuana edibles and vaping are particularly attractive to teens and adolescents who may be more willing to experiment with a legal drug. We need to reinforce the point that marijuana, in any form, is a dangerous substance.”
Although growers and retailers anticipated opening this month, the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission said none of the applications it has received from companies looking to get into the market have been complete or met the stipulations of the law. According to a USA Today Network analysis of municipal marijuana ordinances, 70% of towns in New Jersey have banned legal weed dispensaries.
“Although 70% of the towns in our legislative district have passed ordinances to stop the sale of marijuana within their borders, legal adult-use cannabis, whether it’s permitted in your community or not, will still lead to a shift in people’s cultural acceptance of the drug,” said McClellan (R-Cape May). “We need to make sure we don’t send the wrong message to kids. It is vital that our schools include instructions about the risks of marijuana use, just as they do the dangers of alcohol consumption.”
According to a national study, nearly 11 percent of teenagers who had tried marijuana reported being dependent on it a year later. By year three, 20% had developed a substance abuse disorder. Approximately 45,000 New Jersey young people age 12 to 17 say they have used marijuana within the last month.
Marijuana addiction is more common among teens than adults because their brains are still developing and vulnerable. Adolescents and teens who use marijuana experience distorted thinking, hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety, and depression and can even face a permanent decrease in I.Q. with prolonged abuse.
Under the bill, students will learn about the impacts of marijuana on the adolescent brain and body, addiction, driving under the influence, and the differences between medicinal and recreational use. The effects of THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana that produces the high associated with smoking marijuana, and its relationship to central nervous system depression will also be studied. Students will also understand the external and internal influences that may impact a person’s decision to use or abstain from marijuana and its products.
The bill has been referred to the Assembly Education Committee.