teen cannabis use

As Cannabis Legalization Spreads, Why Are Adolescents Being Left Behind?

As legalization sweeps across the United States, the accompanying policies and legislation are typically made with adults in mind, leaving children behind. While recreational policies only apply to those aged 21 years and older, medical policies often include anyone under 18 years old, but only if they have a legal parent or guardian to serve as their caregiver.

While these policies help many people, including adults with disabilities, get access to the healing properties of cannabis, they are not accessible to everyone. Minors in particular often get the short end of the stick — even though many of us first began experimenting with cannabis as teenagers. Even for children and adolescents with chronic and life-threatening conditions, we remain in the “Just Say No” era when it comes to cannabis consumption.

Lack of access to cannabis can be fatal, even in states with existing medical marijuana laws. Take Jake “The Tank” Honig, a seven-year-old who New Jersey’s recently proposed medical marijuana measure, Jake’s Law, is named after. Parents Janet and Mike Honig used cannabis oil to treat their child’s rare form of brain cancer, but were forced to utilize the oil sparingly because of the state’s strict limits on supply and purchase. Jake died in January 2018 from his brain tumor. Now, his parents are fighting for expanded access to medical marijuana throughout the state.

Despite legal recreational policies being enacted, many are still impacted by the criminalization of teen cannabis use — and this criminalization can negatively impact a minor’s right to education. The Denver Post reports Colorado public schools disclosed a 20 percent increase from the year prior in cannabis incidents during the 2015–2016 school year. The report states that “the frequency with which police were involved had dropped to 847 times, or once for every 4.1 incidents, while the number of students expelled was marginally higher at 211.”

Kids who are caught possessing cannabis aren’t only getting expelled from schools, either. Many are vulnerable to arrest. According to the Colorado Department of Public Safety, between 2012 and 2014, cannabis arrests of white juveniles decreased by 8 percent, while black teen arrests increased by 58 percent and Hispanic teen arrests increased by 29 percent.

Needless to say, there are many missing narratives of how beneficial cannabis can be for minors, because children, whether they die from lack of access to health care or end up behind bars, don’t have the same right to life as adults. However, there are stories of how cannabis heals, even for those aged under 21 or 18. These testimonials as to the healing properties of cannabis need to be told in hopes of expanding cannabis access. Big Buds spoke with two cannabis patients — Emma Adler and Mykeah Simpson — who each live with chronic health conditions, and who would’ve previously benefited from expanded medical marijuana access to minors.

Adler was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a teenager. She first tried pharmaceutical drugs, like Seroquel, to treat her mental health issues, but eventually turned to street weed to self-medicate. Soon enough, her mother got into the medical cannabis business and Adler was able to try tinctures and other types of herbal therapy. Before she knew it, a doctor recommended her for medical marijuana.

Although getting a medical cannabis card has been rewarding for Adler, consuming as a student has been a chore. In order to take her medicine during the school day, Adler had to leave school during lunch break to consume off-site. Now, as a 17-year-old college student, she still has to leave campus to consume THC and be under her mother’s care — which of course means living in campus housing is out of the question.

As a college student, Adler utilizes CBD to consume between classes, but her care routine must also include THC to keep her academically on track. “It’s important to consume THC and CBD for me because I need to be able to get on top of my work and stay on top of my goals and it’s just something that helps me manage,” she explains.

“There are no laws currently governing medical cannabis on any public school campus,” her mom — and author of The ABC’s of CBD: The Essential Guide for Parents — Shira Adler tells Big Buds. “That’s a real problem for lots of parents. I mean, let’s say your child has a seizure disorder. Luckily, I was in a position to change my life around, so if Emma did have a need, then I was four minutes from the high school and I could go get her and take her off-site. That’s not the way anyone should have to live.”

Mykeah Simpson endured a near-fatal car crash when she was 18 years old, which left her paralyzed from the chest down. However, Simpson didn’t get approved for medical marijuana until she was 26 years old. Fortunately, in the past two years, CBD has helped her regain mobility in her fingers, pursue physical therapy sessions, and decrease the number of prescription pills she took. Additionally, CBD oil helps her manage her panic attacks, a symptom of her car crash.

“I went through 30 pills a day, now taking about eight,” she tells Big Buds. “That was one of my goals when I started to experiment with [cannabis] on my own time, because someone spoke about it.”

A portion of Simpson’s chronic pain comes from having metal pins inserted in her neck following her accident. The metal freezes at night when the temperature drops, and thus causes pain and tension. She explained that doctors didn’t prescribe her pain medication to cope with this problem. Now, the CBD helps manage that pain.

“At nighttime, my whole body kind of shuts down,” Simpson explains. “But if I take a teaspoon of CBD oil, all that will calm down, so I can be outside — that has been a big help.”

But again, she didn’t always have access to the oil. Even though California has historically had one of the most accessible medical marijuana policies in the US, Simpson spoke to previously how difficult CBD was to find and how expensive it was. She also had a difficult time finding information about CBD.

These are just two real-life examples of how cannabis can greatly improve the lives of patients, even if they are adolescents. When considering legalization policies, too often young people, especially those with chronic health conditions, are ignored from mainstream discussions about legalization. To expand cannabis access, we need to include minors in our advocacy.

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