The State of Washington’s Marijuana Education

Now that legalized recreational marijuana is spreading across the United States and medicinal marijuana is present in 23 states and Washington, D.C, youth marijuana education is a large concern. Now that the stigma for the drug is starting to subside, should youth education reflect this and lean toward informing with logic and not employing scare tactics?

Washington state’s marijuana legalization bill, Initiative 502, had a number of specific clauses written that were geared towards education, information and studies regarding marijuana use. Namely, 60 percent of new revenue would be dedicated to substance-abuse prevention, research, education and health care.

Many voters were in favor of the bill for these reasons, because regulating, taxing and giving attention to marijuana would be a way to control it and better govern its use.

However, Roger Roffman, an I-502 sponsor and University of Washington professor, has noted that as of yet no funds have been allocated to Washington’s Health Department and no educational efforts have been put in place.

A proponent of marijuana’s legalization, Roffman has no illusions when it comes to irresponsible marijuana use potentially leading to problems. This is why he is especially concerned about new legislation that could possibly remove the educational elements originally in I-502.

As noted in The Seattle Times, there are currently competing revisions of the initial revenue structure—a House bill that revises the tax structure but keeps the general plans of I-502 as far as prevention and healthcare, and a Senate bill that similarly revises the tax structure but is seen as not putting an emphasis on prevention and education.

Dr. Gary Goldbaum, the director of Public Health for Snohomish County, is concerned that the Senate is not taking the need for prevention seriously, and that there is a need to focus on avoiding getting new generations hooked on newly legalized drugs.

Current education programs in school do not really discuss the responsible use of the drug; the most common approach is discussing the potential downfalls and the reinforcement of scare tactics that discourage the use of drugs. As the national stigma is removed from the drug, many think the way it is addressed in school programs should be adapted. Similar to sex ed, it is a question of teaching abstinence only or teaching a safe sex curriculum.

According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, 23 percent of high school students in 2013 had used marijuana in the past 30 days.

A large issue with current drug education programs is that the majority of these programs are based on the assumption that marijuana is a gateway drug and these policies have not changed since the 1990s. In fact, it is looking more and more like this is an assumption based on the common post hoc fallacy, the human logical fallacy of correlation versus causation.

The term “gateway” just refers to the assumption that the use of marijuana directly leads to the use of other, harder drugs, such as cocaine or heroin. While marijuana is set in the public consciousness as a gateway drug, there is actually no definitive proof to that end.

While it is true that most users of harder drugs started or continue to use marijuana, this does not necessarily mean one led to the other. There is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest a causal relationship, but the specific causal factors are not entirely clear.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, “In the sense that marijuana use typically precedes rather than follows initiation into the use of other illicit drugs, it is indeed a gateway drug. However, it does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse.”

As with most issues, personal responsibility is paramount. The uneducated are likely to misuse anything put into their hands, be it food, alcohol or marijuana.

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