Even before the recreational use of marijuana was legalized in California last year, the drug was readily available.
Easy-to-obtain medical cannabis cards and the proliferation of dispensaries throughout the Los Angeles area made the substance as commonplace as beer and cigarettes.
But as use of the drug becomes more socially acceptable, some parents fear that adolescents and teens will lose sight of pot’s ill effects, especially its impact on still-developing brains.
Newbury Park resident Claudia Nagatoshi founded the Coalition for Substance Use Prevention earlier this year to help educate both parents and young adults about the dangers of viewing marijuana as a harmless vice.
On Nov. 15 in Westlake Village, the organization hosted an event titled “It’s legal, now what?” to address the impacts legalization will have on local communities.
“We want to empower the youth to make the right choice. Between the age of 12 and 24, when their physical and mental development is happening, when they use drugs it impacts that development, and we don’t want that,” Nagatoshi said. “If they’re going to use drugs, we want them to at least hold off until they are fully grown adults. That’s why we’re here. We are not saying, ‘Don’t do it,’ we’re just here to give them the tools for them to make the right decision.”
A 2017 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that adolescents who regularly use cannabis are more likely to experience slower mental processing speeds and decreased intellectual capacity.
The November meeting was attended by 15 people. It featured a presentation by Capt. Don Aguilar of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and a Q&A session with a therapist who leads local sobriety meetings.
“Families owe it to their kids to say, ‘Here are some of the consequences that can happen if you make these choices.’ One bad decision down the road could lead to jail or medical problems,” Aguilar said.
His presentation addressed local cities’ approaches to legalized use, such as Thousand Oaks officials’ decision to allow a medical marijuana dispensary to operate within the city.
He also spoke to the still undetermined methods of policing legalization, chief among them the lack of a legal standard for driving under the influence of marijuana. While California set a standard for blood alcohol content to determine if a driver is drunk there is no equivalent test for cannabis.
Colin Keller, a therapist with Engage Treatment Programs, a Westlake Village-based therapy organization, answered audience members’ questions about marijuana use.
Through his work helping kids get sober, he said, he’s seen that misconceptions about the drug can lead to usage that is ultimately harmful.
“The perception of the harmfulness of marijuana has gone down, and that’s led to a rise in usage,” Keller said. “There’s been this hippie mentality from the ’60s, ‘peace and love’ and all that, and working with kids who are really dependent on marijuana has shown me that marijuana potency is a big issue. It’s much more potent than it was back then. I’ve seen (heavy use) exacerbate anxiety and depression, and lead to suicidal thoughts.”
Keller said the best way for parents to approach their kids about drug use is with a nonjudgmental attitude, to make their children feel comfortable opening up.
The Coalition for Substance Use Prevention is planning to host more of these events.
Nagatoshi, a preschool teacher, said she founded the coalition because she didn’t want to see the future of the young people in her community be impacted by substance use. The organization works with numerous local drug-awareness groups, including Straight Up Ventura, Break Through and Not One More.
“I saw a picture that said, ‘Drugs gave me wings to fly, but they took away my blue sky.’ Every time I say it, it just gives me chills,” Nagatoshi said. “I don’t want anyone to not see the beauty of life.”