'No Legal Marijuana,' Pediatricians Say

Neil Osterweil

January 26, 2015

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has drawn a line in the sand, issuing a sober policy statement reaffirming its opposition to the legalization of marijuana. The tide of public opinion and state laws, however, may be turning against the organization.

"The AAP opposes legalization of marijuana because of the potential harms to children and adolescents. The AAP supports studying the effects of recent laws legalizing the use of marijuana to better understand the impact and define best policies to reduce adolescent marijuana use," the statement says.

The statement and accompanying technical report, published online January 26 in Pediatrics, state that children and adolescents may be harmed when adults have easier access to marijuana for recreational or medical purposes.

"We know marijuana can be very harmful to adolescent health and development," Seth D. Ammerman, MD, a member of the AAP Committee on Substance Abuse, said in an academy news release. "Making it more available to adults — even if restrictions are in place — will increase the access for teens. Just the campaigns to legalize marijuana can have the effect of persuading adolescents that marijuana is not dangerous, which can have a devastating impact on their lifelong health and development."

The AAP warns that marijuana can affect memory and concentration and interfere with learning in adolescents, making it harder for them to finish high school or pursue a college degree.

"Alterations in motor control, coordination, judgment, reaction time, and tracking ability have also been documented; these may contribute to unintentional deaths and injuries among adolescents (especially those associated with motor vehicles if adolescents drive while intoxicated by marijuana," the statement says.

State Laws

At this time, commercial sale of marijuana has been legalized in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia, and decriminalized in 18 states. Dispensing of marijuana for medical purposes is legal in 23 states, and dispensing of cannabinoids for medical reasons is permitted in 11 states, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Possession of specified quantities of marijuana is still considered to be a criminal offense under federal law, however.

In addition to restating the AAP's position against legalization of pot, the statement notes the group's opposition to the use of medical marijuana "outside the regulatory process of the US Food and Drug Administration."

The AAP's position is not without exception, however. It acknowledges that "marijuana may currently be an option for cannabinoid administration for children with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions and for whom current therapies are inadequate."

In addition, the AAP calls for decriminalization of marijuana use and calls on pediatricians in states where marijuana sale is legal to lobby for close regulation.

"Revenue from this regulation should be used to support research on the health risks and benefits of marijuana. These regulations should include strict penalties for those who sell marijuana or marijuana products to those younger than 21 years, education and diversion programs for people younger than 21 years who possess marijuana, point-of-sale restrictions, and other marketing restrictions," the statement says.

In addition to opposing the legalization of marijuana, the AAP also opposes smoking marijuana because of the documented health effects and urges adults not to use the drug in the presence of children.

Pediatrics. Published online January 26, 2015.

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