Testa and Simonsen introduce bill requiring schools to educate students on harmful effects of marijuana use

Testa and Simonsen introduce bill requiring schools to educate students on harmful effects of marijuana use

Erik Simonsen

TRENTON, N.J. – In anticipation of an adult-use recreational marijuana market in New Jersey, Sen. Michael Testa and Assemblyman Erik Simonsen introduced a bill to educate students in grades 3 through 12 on the risks of cannabis and marijuana use.

The bill (S3360/A5168) specifies schools must include age-appropriate instruction on the use of cannabis and marijuana products in their substance abuse education.

“As soon as the Legislature gets its act together, marijuana will be legal for adult use,” said Testa (R-Cape May). “That will send a dangerous message to school kids of all ages – that cannabis is safe and accepted. It is vital that our schools include instructions about the risks of marijuana use, and its deleterious effects on brain development in young people. This education should be similar to the dangers of alcohol consumption and abuse.”

Voters approved legalizing marijuana for adults in November, but the state has yet to pass legislation establishing a framework for officially legalizing and decriminalizing the drug.

“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,” explained 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 drug that is legal. We need to reinforce the point that marijuana, in any form, is a dangerous substance.”

Most teens in New Jersey who were admitted to a drug abuse treatment center reported that marijuana was their drug of choice. 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 IQ 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 have a greater understanding of the external and internal influences that may impact a person’s decision to use or abstain from cannabis and marijuana products.

The bill has been referred to the Senate and Assembly education committees.