One of the most common arguments against legalizing and regulating cannabis is that it will harm the children. Opponents cite a number of questionable studies and claim that cannabis use causes brain abnormalities and lowers IQ (a myth debunked by our own federal government), and conclude that by keeping the current laws and bans in place we are protecting our vulnerable young people.
Another argument against legalization and regulation is that cannabis is already practically legal in California, and that “no one gets arrested for pot anymore” (implying that we don’t need legalization, we already have it). While it’s true that decriminalization in 2011 did reduce the number of misdemeanor arrests, it did not eliminate them, and the rate of felony incarcerations showed little change; we are still arresting around 20,000 people every year:
As one might expect, racial disparities have remained more or less the same, with people of color still many times more likely to be arrested than whites in spite of similar rates of use. But there has been one major shift in the demographic:
Youth under 18 now account for the majority of marijuana misdemeanor arrests. Prior to 2011—the year that possession of marijuana for personal use was reduced from a misdemeanor to an infraction in California—youth only accounted for a quarter of misdemeanor marijuana arrests. As of 2015, youth account for two-thirds of marijuana misdemeanor arrests in the state.
With so much concern for the well-being of young minds, one wonders why no one is scanning the brains of teens after being arrested, prosecuted, and jailed, and making comparisons with their more fortunate counterparts who never got caught. A Yale Law School study on child incarceration states:
The United States is “the world’s leader in the incarceration of children.” Of those incarcerated, thousands of American teenagers are held in solitary confinement each day. According to national prevalence reports, of the approximately 100,000 youth in residential facilities for juvenile offenders at any given time, more than one third reported spending time in solitary confinement, and more than half of this group reported periods of isolation exceeding twenty-four hours. Further, a national survey on suicide in juvenile facilities found that approximately half the youth who committed suicide were on “room-confinement” at the time of death.
Cannabis can’t kill our kids, but going to jail definitely can. Under current laws, juvenile penalties are the same as those for adults. Under Proposition 64, these penalties are replaced with counseling, community service, and education.
We support Prop 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act for many reasons. It legalizes something that no one should be in jail for, which means fewer families torn apart by the legal system. It retroactively reduces penalties for marijuana arrests, which will reunite families so that they can begin healing. It frees up law enforcement resources to focus on real criminal activities in the community (50 years ago, 90% of murder cases were solved; today, it’s only 64.1%). Prop 64 allows the state and localities to enact reasonable taxation, and it’s been written to address many of the issues that were present in the measures passed in Colorado and Washington. There are strict restrictions on advertising and packaging, and no, you won’t be seeing Big Marijuana commercials running during Spongebob (contrary to what opponents would have you believe).
Meanwhile, the FDA has approved Oxycontin for patients as young as 11.
If Prop 64 doesn’t pass, lawmakers and law enforcement throughout Ventura County will sanctimoniously claim they have Done the Right Thing and Protected the Children, when in fact they have chosen instead to embrace the devastating harms of prohibition.