A new year has begun and with that comes new ideas, resolutions, and goals.  One goal, which is not new but must become a priority in the new year, is to take action to curb the growing problem of teens abusing drugs, including marijuana, which continues to increase in popularity among our youth.

In fact, a 2009 study performed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that about 42 percent of teenagers will have tried marijuana by the time they graduate high school.  According to the USA Today, more high school seniors used marijuana than smoked cigarettes in the 30 days prior to the study.  The data demonstrated that daily marijuana use has increased substantially among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. Clearly, marijuana use is growing in popularity and one has to wonder if recent actions to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes are a contributing factor to the increase in popularity.

One of the arguments against the legalization of marijuana for medical usage in New Jersey is that the publicity surrounding the legalization of marijuana will lead our youth to believe that marijuana is comparable to medicine and therefore safe to use.  In fact, the White House “drug czar” blamed the rise in marijuana usage on the publicity surrounding the legalization of marijuana, which has been approved by 14 states, including New Jersey.

Legalizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes by adults sends a confusing message to teens about the severity of drug abuse. On one hand we tell them that drugs, such as marijuana, are harmful and dangerous and then we legalize marijuana claiming that its effects can be soothing and used to relieve pain. It is no wonder that teens are confused and many are dismissing our warnings to avoid marijuana and other illicit substances.

Another front in this battle is the increasing prevalence of synthetic marijuana, which can be just as harmful as marijuana.  Recently, while Jackson police were searching for a suspicious man, they came upon a car parked and running in the area with three occupants inside.  Instead of finding the prowler, police discovered three young women inside a car who were in possession of marijuana and a package of K2 or Spice, which is a chemical compound that is becoming increasingly popular as synthetic marijuana.

Make no mistake, while not illegal, K2 is a dangerous drug and when smoked, can give users a marijuana-like high with serious side effects, including heart palpitations, respiratory issues, panic attacks, vomiting, delusions and hallucinations. A federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) official called use of Spice/K2 the equivalent of “playing Russian roulette.”

Due to the growing trend of K2 usage, I introduced legislation in May that would add three chemical compounds used in K2 to the list of prohibited Schedule I drugs, which have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use and include heroin, LSD and marijuana. I am hopeful that the Legislature will act quickly on my legislation so we can ban this dangerous product.

In November the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced that they are using an emergency scheduling authority to temporarily control substances which are used to make synthetic marijuana.  This action would make the possession or selling of these chemicals, and products that contain them, illegal in the United States for a year pending further study to decide whether the ban should be permanent.

I commend the DEA for recognizing the potential harm of these chemicals used to create synthetic marijuana and moving swiftly to make the possession and selling of these chemicals illegal.  However, we need to ensure that these chemicals are permanently banned in New Jersey by enacting legislation that would classify the chemicals as Schedule I drugs, thus making their possession and selling illegal.

Unfortunately, there are constantly new methods of abusing drugs as new chemicals are combined and created with the potential of giving the “high” they are seeking. That is why we must remain vigilant in combating all forms of drug use and the government, both state and federal, needs to work together in preventing drug use and abuse among our youth.

A good first step to continue combating use of illegal drugs is to ban the selling and possession of chemicals that are currently being combined to create substances which mimic street drugs. Most importantly, in addition to providing our youth with the tools to make wise decisions concerning drug use, we must enact policies that would send a clear and consistent message about the negative consequences of using drugs.

 

Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini
11th Legislative District