CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — A public hearing held on Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Senate Aging and Youth Committee discussed the impact recreational marijuana legalization could have on children.
“Pennsylvania has already legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes, but this would be a step in the wrong direction for the Commonwealth,” said Chairwoman Judy Ward (R-30). “Before taking this step, I strongly believe that we must thoroughly vet all aspects of the issue including the potential impact of this decision on our children and young adults.”
After years of advocating for legal recreational marijuana, polls show it is gaining more support, however.
“I think legalization is a far better way to go,” said DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative council for the Marijuana Policy Project. “I think the state can actually have a cost savings, right, from legalizing, in addition to the the potential revenues and job opportunities that it will create.”
Not all parties are jumping on the legalization bandwagon.
“70% of the children in Blair County, when they access care, it is for marijuana or cannabis use disorder,” said Judy Rosser, executive director of Blair County Drug & Alcohol Program Partnerships.
“Marijuana use absolutely impacts your IQ, your GPA, your educational performance, and your future work experience as well,” said Luke Niforatos, executive vice president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
The Smart Approaches to Marijuana organization said there’s an increased chance of developing psychological disorders for young cannabis users. Others said marijuana is a gateway drug.
“Nobody starts with heroin. Nobody starts with overdosing on fentanyl except in rare cases,” said Dr. Aaron Weiner, a licensed clinical psychologist. “Everyone starts with something that they perceive as being lower risk.”
Studies by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the CDC show people who start using marijuana before the age of 18 are more likely to develop a use disorder than adults. The Marijuana Policy Project points out, however, most household medicine cabinets and prescriptions have substances that are far more harmful.
“That’s not to say that cannabis can’t be addictive, you absolutely can be addicted to cannabis and folks should absolutely monitor their usage like any other drug, but there are currently more harmful and addictive substances right now that minors can access,” said DeVaughn Ward. “Legalizing cannabis, I don’t think, is going to have any dramatic increase or effect on addiction.”
Pro-legalization lawmakers said there will be policies in place to prevent cannabis from being marketed towards children; however, others are concerned about how to enforce those regulations on cannabis companies.
“There are no doubt dangers associated with marijuana, and we need to be careful,” said Judy Ward. “As an elected official it is my duty to take these dangers seriously and develop policy that promotes a safe and healthy Pennsylvania.”