Legalizing pot would likely harm children [Letter]

Dan Rodricks in his column, "Pot fears expose fears about societal health" (Feb. 27), starts to address some of the potential ramifications of legalizing marijuana in Maryland. He posits that most people "acknowledge the possibility that it could lead to more problems … but who knows how this will turn out?" Mr. Rodricks' concerns about not focusing on the health impact are valid and should be addressed. Health professionals and researchers have decades of experience studying the effects of regular marijuana use by adolescents.

The 7.5 percent of teenagers who state they are current marijuana users are significantly more likely to be suspended from school, drop out of high school and have mood disorders. With the increase in potency of the drug, one in six children who tries marijuana before 18 will become an addict. The factors impacting whether or not a child will use marijuana include availability of the drug, social norms and perceived harmfulness. Legalizing marijuana shifts all of these factors toward increased use.

Maryland can learn from the experience in Colorado. Since 2009, access to marijuana has increased substantially, and in 2012, it became legal. Increased marijuana access leads to significant health impacts on children. Many counties in Colorado report up to 25 percent of high school students are current marijuana users (more than three times the national rate). Since 2009, 14 toddlers have become seriously ill from accidental ingestions requiring emergency room visits or hospitalization at the Children's Hospital Denver. In the four prior years they had zero. Even before full legalization, the state experienced a 32 percent increase in drug-related school suspensions and expulsions.

It is true that "legal" drugs such as tobacco and alcohol also bear risks for children. However, we have responded to this risk through further efforts to protect children. Each time the age of legal access to tobacco or alcohol was increased or the cost of tobacco increased, the rate of use in children has decreased. Given our efforts to reduce children's access to alcohol and tobacco, why would we now increase their access to marijuana? Now is not the time for Maryland to follow the path taken by Colorado, we need to do everything possible to keep our children healthy.

Dr. Scott Krugman, Baltimore

The writer is president of the Maryland chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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