The Newburyport public school nurses are asking city councilors to vote in support of the new marijuana ordinance introduced by City Councilor Brian Derrivan. District nurses are concerned about the health and safety of our community residents and especially our youth. The new Massachusetts law decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana, but it is still illegal. Unfortunately, our students have misinterpreted this law and think that marijuana is now legal. Many students also seem to think that using marijuana is "no big deal" and "safe." In truth, there are health and safety risks to using marijuana:
Marijuana is addictive: Addiction occurs in about 16 percent of users who start in their teens. Marijuana accounts for 63 percent of substance abuse treatment admissions among youth aged 12 to 14 and 69 percent of those aged 15 to 17. In addition, animal studies suggest that exposure to marijuana during adolescence may increase the risk of developing addiction to other substances of abuse, such as cocaine and methamphetamine.
Marijuana is unsafe if you are behind the wheel: Marijuana use makes it difficult to judge distances and react to signals and sounds on the road. Marijuana is the most commonly identified illicit drug in fatal accidents (14 percent of drivers), sometimes in combination with alcohol or other drugs.
Marijuana is associated with school failure. It impairs short-term memory, making it hard to learn and retain information and its effect can last for days and sometimes weeks. Compared with their nonsmoking peers, students who smoke marijuana tend to get lower grades and are more likely to drop out of high school.
High doses of marijuana can cause psychosis or panic. A growing body of research shows that marijuana use can be detrimental to adolescent brain development. It may produce long-lasting neurocognitive deficits and increased risk of mental health problems, including psychosis.
In people who already have schizophrenia, marijuana use can worsen psychotic symptoms.
Use of marijuana by teens is increasing nationally. The most recent data from the Monitoring the Future Survey of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders nationwide shows "a significant increase in marijuana use, including daily marijuana use among U.S. high school students and a decrease in perceived risk of use." The "annual prevalence (of marijuana use) for eighth-graders during the past two years has been higher than any time since 2003."
In 2009, Youth Risk Behavior Survey data showed marijuana use increased in Massachusetts high school students for the first time since 1995; prior to that, usage was steadily declining. In Newburyport, the 2009 YRBS showed 34 percent of high school students had used marijuana at least once in their lifetime (a decrease from 37 percent in 2007); and 24 percent had used it within the past 30 days (no change from 2007). The 2011 YRBS data is pending, but anecdotal reports suggest that our Massachusetts and Newburyport youth are following national trends in their use, attitudes and beliefs around marijuana.
Teen brains are "under development"; teens are notorious risk takers and lack good judgment. They need adults to send clear messages about risky behaviors and to support them in making healthy choices. In Newburyport, we have an opportunity in the proposed ordinance to protect the health and safety of our children. In sending a clear message that our community does not tolerate public use of marijuana by anyone (adults or youth), we support parents' and teachers' efforts to teach our youth about the health risks of marijuana, and we give teens a good reason to say no to using this drug.
For the health and safety of our children, we respectfully ask the council to pass the marijuana ordinance.
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Newburyport public school nurses: Beverly Heinze-Lacey, RN, MPH, nurse leader; Denise Gough, RN, NSCN; Lorna Hossack, RN, NCSN; Lynne Rurak, RN; Michelle Rybicki, RN