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Delaney: Legalizing Pot

I never hesitate to say what’s been the best part of my life – and I have much to choose from. But hands down, being a parent trumps everything else. My favorite word is “dad”, followed closely by “grandfather.” And as a teacher I’d often look at the young faces in front of me and delight in the thought of life’s great adventures before them.

My kids are up, gone and doing well. Yet, with the strong heart of a parent, I still worry about Vermont’s youth – especially concerning marijuana, pot.

A few years ago, Vermont’s legislature legalized the possession of a small amount by adults and I saw wisdom in that. But I don’t see anything in the present Senate Bill 95, under consideration, that effectively addresses the potential risk to teens and young adults by long term, chronic use of pot. We’ve failed abysmally with teens and alcohol, so I think we’re fooling ourselves to think anything different will happen with marijuana. The Vermont weekly, Seven Days, reports that as small as we are, our state is #1 in the nation for underage drinking by 12 to 20-year-olds at 37%.

What our policy makers seem to have overlooked, is the mounting evidence that sustained use of pot by adolescents and young adults may cause lasting brain damage, even a permanent lowering of the I.Q.

Remember, we’re talking about adolescence here, a time when our brains are being permanently formed.

Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, son of Senator Ted Kennedy and nephew of President John Kennedy, is a recovering alcoholic and addict. He will be for the rest of his life. Now a parent, Patrick Kennedy writes in his just published memoir, A Common Struggle, that he worries about his own children and easy access to marijuana and its products. He says that THC today, the ingredient that makes people feel high, “is much more powerful than what we ever had, and (is) being used at increasingly younger ages when the brain is even more unformed.”

Senate Bill 95 proposes a light fine, and maybe enrollment in a substance abuse program for teens who’ve been caught in possession of marijuana. But I’m afraid that the potential risk needs to be much more strongly addressed by policy makers. Not to do so strikes me as irresponsible and many young Vermonters could end up paying a stiff price – perhaps even for life.

Dennis Delaney is a former Republican State Senator.
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