Legal marijuana challenges drug abuse awareness

April is Alcohol Awareness Month—a key time for all Islanders to work towards reducing the stigma around seeking help for alcohol abuse.  Alcohol addiction can affect both youth and adults and is a treatable disease.

This year, for the first time, alcohol has been joined by another commercialized, addictive substance that merits greater public awareness--marijuana.

Initiative 502 did more than legalized the possession of certain amounts of marijuana (dried plant matter), marijuana-infused products (foods and beverages), and marijuana concentrates (hash oil).  It created a commercial marijuana industry that will undoubtedly advertise and promote its products vigorously.  Economists predict that marijuana usage will follow the same “80/20 rule” seen with alcohol—that 20 percent  of users will purchase 80 percent of the product.  As our community and state march forward into the great marijuana experiment, it is critical that problem users—the 20 percent — are comfortable seeking help and know where to find it.

The risks of a commercial marijuana industry, especially to our youth, should not be brushed aside by the hype surrounding legalization.  A recent study finds that youth who start using marijuana heavily as teens risk permanently losing up to eight IQ points.  In 2013, the Washington State Patrol saw a 40 percent increase in DUI-Marijuana. Marijuana continues to be the number one reason Washington youth enter in-patient drug treatment (72 percent  marijuana vs. 12 percent for alcohol).  On Mercer Island, results from Communities That Care (CTC) social norms survey find that 26 percent of Mercer Island High School students have used marijuana.  And, although there remains some debate in the media, the medical evidence is clear: Marijuana is addictive to 1 in 6 teens and 1 in 11 adults who use regularly.

While the era of legal marijuana has risks, we are not helpless.  There is much we have learned from preventing and treating alcohol abuse we can apply to marijuana.  For example, the UW’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute hosts an informative website at about the law and today’s marijuana. The City’s Department of Youth and Family Services has substance abuse professionals on staff to offer assessment or referral to any Islander, regardless of age or income. The Washington Recovery Help Line offers 24-hour help for all substance abuse problems at 1 (866) 789-1511. CTC has substance abuse prevention professionals able to speak to Island individuals, families, or groups at no charge.

I encourage all Islanders to make safe choices about the treatment and prevention of alcohol and marijuana addiction. And, to parents of teens coming of age in one of the world’s first legal marijuana marketplace I say:  Please talk to your children now about the risks they face and the healthy choices they can make.


Bruce Bassett is the mayor of Mercer Island.


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