As a parent and grandparent, I believe legalizing recreational marijuana would result in serious harm to public health and safety, and urge my fellow Californians to vote “No” on Proposition 64 on Nov. 8.
Marijuana is a complicated issue. I support its medicinal use and have introduced federal legislation to make it easier to research and potentially bring marijuana-derived medicines to the market with FDA approval.
I also recognize that our nation’s failure to treat drug addiction as a public health issue has resulted in broken families and overcrowded prisons. That’s why I support the sentencing reform that would reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentences in certain drug crimes, give judges more flexibility to set sentences and promote treatment programs to address the underlying addiction.
But Proposition 64 would allow marijuana of any strength to be sold. It could make it easier for children to access marijuana and marijuana-infused foods. It could add to the already exorbitant costs of treating addiction. And it does not do enough to keep stoned drivers, including minors, off the roads.
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With 25 million drivers in our state, that should set off alarm bells. While we do not fully understand how marijuana affects an individual’s driving ability, we do know that it significantly impacts judgment, motor coordination and reaction time.
In Washington, deaths in marijuana-related car crashes have more than doubled since legalization. In Colorado, 21 percent of 2015 traffic deaths were marijuana-related, double the rate five years earlier – before marijuana was legalized.
In California, even without recreational legalization, fatalities caused by drivers testing positive for marijuana increased by nearly 17 percent from 2005 to 2014. While the presence of marijuana does not prove causation, these numbers are concerning. A study on drugged driving and roadside tests to detect impairment required by Proposition 64 should be completed before, not after, legalization goes into effect.
Proposition 64 does not limit the strength of marijuana that could be sold. Since 1995, levels of THC – the psychoactive component of marijuana – have tripled. Increased strength can increase the risk of adverse health effects, ranging from hallucinations to uncontrollable vomiting.
We’ve already seen examples of harm. This summer in San Francisco, 13 children, one only 6 years old, were taken to hospitals after ingesting marijuana-infused candy – a product permitted under Proposition 64.
The combination of unlimited strength and the ability to sell marijuana-edibles should concern all parents. So should the risk of increased youth access. Age restrictions don’t prevent youths from using alcohol; marijuana will not be any different.
Nearly 10 million Californians are under age 18. Studies show that marijuana may cause damage to developing brains, and one in six adolescents who uses marijuana becomes addicted.
While more research on prolonged use is needed, a large-scale study found that people who began using heavily as teens and developed an addiction lost up to eight IQ points, which were not recoverable.
This means that a child of average intelligence could end up a child of below-average intelligence, a lifelong consequence.
The proposition could also allow children to see marijuana advertisements, making it more enticing for them to experiment.
In fact, Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang ruled that Proposition 64 “could roll back” the prohibition of smoking ads on television. Even though it is against federal law, the proposition explicitly permits television and other advertisements, provided that three in four audience members are “reasonably expected” to be adults.
We need criminal justice reform and a renewed focus on treatment. But legalizing marijuana is not the answer, particularly in the nation’s largest state. Proposition 64 fails to adequately address the public health and safety consequences associated with recreational marijuana use.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein is the senior senator from California.