Guest Column: Cannabis Industry Must Dominate Discussion About MJ’s Impact on Young People

By John Conlin

The legalization of medical and adult-use marijuana in the United States appears to be a force that can’t be stopped.

As this occurs, we can expect more scientific research into the biological impacts of cannabis consumption, particularly on young people. This is valuable research, but it also could create major challenges for our nascent industry.

Despite huge shifts in public perception, there are still many people who are very much against legalization, and we can expect them to use the results of these studies as ammunition in their fight.

Research will certainly show that marijuana consumption is bad for the development of a young person’s brain. It would be astonishing if this were not the case.

Young brains are developing at astonishing speeds. Cell growth is far more dynamic than in mature brains. Thus a young brain is going to be far more susceptible to cellular damage than a mature brain.

That’s not in question, and it’s true for alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, environmental pesticides, all aspects of food consumption and nutrition, and a whole host of other compounds, including cannabis.

And thus my plea: We as an industry need to accept this reality and prepare to be proactive in the discussion, not reactive.

Some cannabis prohibitionists will of course use these yet-to-be-completed studies as evidence as to why legalization must be stopped and rolled back. One can hear the cries now: “Oh the children!” Although mistaken, this can be a powerful message to voters and politicians.

The industry can respond to this by attempting to discredit these studies, but I profoundly believe this would be the wrong course. Rather, we should use intellectual jiu-jitsu and turn this fact (and it will be a fact) back on the prohibitionists.

The argument we can use: Of course the youthful consumption of marijuana is bad, and that is exactly the reason we should legalize the product.

Legalization allows the regulation and control of the product. Sticking with the failed prohibitionist marketplace ensures marijuana is available to anyone, of any age, who has the desire and cash to get some.

The reality is marijuana is already everywhere. There isn’t a high school kid in this country (or unfortunately many middle schoolers) who couldn’t get some in a matter of minutes. How does this protect young minds?

The real decision is whether prohibition is superior to a state-regulated, adults-only marketplace – or, in the reverse, whether a flourishing, illegal, unregulated “sell-to-anyone” market is better than a legal effective state-regulated market.

If one is truly concerned about marijuana’s possible neurological effects on young brains, one must support legalization. This should be our industry’s response to these studies.

Being a prohibitionist might make one feel morally superior, but the real-world impact of this position ensures far more children will be exposed to these damages, not less.

Until alcohol prohibition was implemented the issue of public drunkenness by children was unheard of. During the prohibition years it was a common lament. Once alcohol prohibition was lifted, the problem of public drunkenness by children disappeared.

The same is already happening with marijuana.

From a public health perspective, legal state regulation is a vastly superior means to restrict young folks from access until they are of legal age. For those under 21 today, getting alcohol is far more difficult than marijuana. There is a reason for this.

Milton Friedman, renowned economist and philosopher, captured this perfectly in this quote: “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”

Whether marijuana is your cup-of-tea is a personal choice, but our analysis should be based on facts, not emotions. Of course the consumption of marijuana by children is damaging. We will soon have many studies proving this.

We can attempt to ignore or discredit them or we can embrace them. I recommend we embrace them.

Because that leads us to the more important point: So what do we do about it?

The answer is just as factual as these studies. If you truly want to keep marijuana out of young people’s hands, a legal, state-regulated market is obviously superior to the illegal black market, “sell-to-anyone” alternative.

This industry has nothing to fear from these studies. They prove our point and are vastly superior public policy on pretty much every front.

Let’s start laying the groundwork to ensure these studies are our ammunition, not a false narrative laid out by our opponents. Let’s do it for the children.

John Conlin is an expert in the marketing, sales and distribution of beer, wine and spirits and co-founded The Sausage Queen, a marijuana-infused edibles company.