There is much discussion about the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in California, and it will be on the November ballot. As someone who is involved in programs to address chemical dependency, there is no doubt that marijuana is a “gateway drug.” As CEO of the Fresno Rescue Mission, I recently asked our staff to survey individuals who are in our 18-month recovery program. These individuals come from all walks of life, various age groups and different social levels. The survey was not conducted to be research but rather to be anecdotal.
Here are the results from the 88 participants:
▪ 10 individuals started on marijuana at 9 years old or younger and averaged 19.5 years of use.
▪ 22 individuals started between 10 and 12 and averaged 18.5 years of use.
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▪ 29 individuals started at 13 or 14 and averaged 18.5 years of use.
▪ 14 individuals started at 15 or 16 and averaged 14.5 years of use.
▪ 13 individuals started at 17 or older and averaged 13.5 years of use.
All of these people indicated that marijuana and alcohol were the gateways that led to their use of more dangerous drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin, as well as abuse of prescription drugs.
Not everyone who uses marijuana will progress to other drugs, but with the legalization of marijuana, there will be an increasing number of our young people who will avail themselves of it. For them, we believe this may well lead to increased use of other drugs and overall drug abuse.
Statistics from Colorado and Washington, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana, show disturbing social impacts, especially among the young and disadvantaged communities. I would ask you to check out the studies that have looked at the impact of legalized marijuana in these states.
One of the stated “justifications” for legalization is additional tax revenue. But the long-term need for additional social services, policing and intervention will take up these new tax dollars, leading to zero gain.
I talked to the CEO of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, and he indicated that since the legalization of marijuana in Washington, the homeless population has grown significantly. Seattle is No. 3 in the nation for homelessness (after New York and Los Angeles) but is only the 15th largest city.
I recommend that you read the Washington State Marijuana Impact Report of March 2016. A section on youth impacts indicates that from September 2014 to January 2015, 77 percent of all alcohol and drug violations in Seattle’s public schools were related to marijuana. In 2014, youth under the age of 20 made up 45 percent of Washington Poison Center calls.
I also talked with the CEO of the Denver Rescue Mission, asking what impact he has seen since Colorado legalized marijuana growth and use. Here are some of his observations:
1. The overall regulation and administrative oversight by the state have been much more complex and difficult than anticipated.
2. Because marijuana is illegal at the federal level, federally chartered banks cannot conduct business with marijuana producers. This has led to much of the industry being run on a cash basis.
3. The homeless population in Denver doubled the year that marijuana was legalized.
4. The appearance of marijuana in foods such as cookies has led to difficulty in regulating its use, especially among youth.
5. He said there is no denying that marijuana legalization in Colorado has had a huge economic impact on the state, but the high social costs have yet to be determined.
Our goal at the mission is to see the need for our services decrease, not increase. From where I sit, there needs to be much more thought, evaluation and study given to the overall impact that legalization of marijuana would have on our California communities and society as a whole.
Don Eskes is CEO of the Fresno Rescue Mission.