During the Planning Commission hearing on Oct. 12, the marijuana users were out in force. While many individuals spoke for Option A, which is a ban on all marijuana in the County proper, there appeared to be even more present that supported Option B, which allows sales of marijuana in limited areas of the county.
Unfortunately, there was a significant amount of misinformation in that meeting. For example, marijuana proponents indicated that a million individuals in Kern County used marijuana. In point of fact, the most recent census (2015) indicated that the TOTAL population of Kern County was 882,176. Even assuming that in the last year-and-a-half the population had increased to one million people, that would mean every man, woman and child in the county would be a marijuana user.
It was suggested that just having marijuana for sale would not guarantee that underage would be more likely to use marijuana. In fact, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has proven that the prevalence of stores that sell alcohol correlates to how many underage youth use alcohol. When an area has a higher per capita number of alcohol outlets, underage youth are more likely to drink alcohol. Evidence based practices look carefully at the issuance of alcohol licenses and the unintended consequences of youth access to alcohol.
Further, in a study conducted in Colorado, where medical marijuana use has been prevalent, three-quarters of teens in a drug rehab program illegally obtained medical marijuana from someone who had obtained it legally. Of the teens in the study, only one had actually obtained a medical marijuana card. Adolescents who use marijuana long term have problems with learning and memory, have an increased risk of psychosis, and risk the long-term neurocognitive deficits and reduced IQ.
According to NIDA (National Institute of Drug Abuse), in the past year 11.8 percent of eighth graders, 25.4 percent of 10th graders and 34.9 percent of 12th graders had used marijuana. While most people believe marijuana is a benign, non-addictive drug, in fact that is not accurate. NIDA estimates that 9 percent of adults will become addicted, and that 17 percent of those who start using it young will become addicted. Between 25-30 percent of daily users will also become marijuana addicts.
Why are so many professionals worried about the impact that legalizing the sale of marijuana would have in our communities? Kern Stop Meth Now has been active in working to reduce the use of methamphetamine throughout our community. The staggering cost of meth use in Kern County cuts a broad swath — from law enforcement to emergency rooms, from Probation to Children’s Protective Services, and overwhelms our judicial systems. Children are the real casualties in this problem, as many go to the Jamison Center and subsequently to foster care at best. Fire departments are involved, as are both the District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office.
Make no mistake about it – a significant portion of our local tax dollars go to address this scourge. We know that most addicts started using it when they were young — often before their teen-age years. For those who started young, marijuana was by far the most frequent drug of first use.
The voters of Kern County voted NOT to pass Proposition 64. Let us honor those voters by banning the sale of marijuana in Kern County.
Linda Eviston is the executive director of STEPS, and executive committee member of the Kern County Stop Meth Now Coalition.