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Catholic Voice
  October 24, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 18   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

No 'safe path' for children

Most Rev.
Michael C. Barber, SJ

Proposition 64 asks voters to legalize the sale and use of marijuana by anyone over the age of 21. The cannabis industry asserts that it is only for adults. But the measure actually endangers 10 million Californians' children in ways that are entirely predictable today.

As persons and a society, we must protect our children. "The civil community with its institutions," said Pope Francis, "has a certain ... responsibility toward young people, a responsibility that at times is neglected or poorly exercised ... Young people are thus deprived of safe paths to follow, of teachers to trust in, of ideals to warm their hearts, of values and of hopes to sustain them daily."

Proposition 64 does not provide these "safe paths" in at least three key areas.

First, we all recognize the pervasive power of advertising and Proposition 64 virtually guarantees that millions of children would be exposed to positive, alluring marijuana advertising.

Proposition 64 would provide broad permission to advertise recreational marijuana throughout much of society, including television. While federal law bans tobacco ads from television, the proposition's language allows television advertising as long as most of the viewing audience is adult. This means that if only a quarter of a show's audience is deemed to be children, it is acceptable to advertise marijuana products. That virtually guarantees tens of thousands of children will see favorable ads for marijuana.

Second, California wrestles with the continuing challenge of providing all youth a solid education. The goal for students is to become competent, fulfilling adults in society. Yet the increased allure and availability of marijuana is almost certain to derail some younger Californians.

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Medical research shows that cannabis often leads to diminished learning capacity in some and less motivation to learn in others. Marijuana use by teens can have long term, even lifelong, harmful impacts. A report in the "Journal of the American Medical Association" (JAMA) "Psychiatry" notes that "… when marijuana users begin using as teenagers, the drug may reduce thinking, memory and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions. Marijuana's effects on these abilities may last a long time or even be permanent."

In analyzing available cannabis research JAMA editor Dr. David Goldman concluded that "studies of humans and animals strongly indicate that cannabis changes the structure and function of the brain, and the propensity to cannabis addiction is heritable, which means that some are more vulnerable."

Third, children could unknowingly find and consume marijuana, sometimes suffering serious health impacts. That outcome already is occurring in Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana just two years ago. Hospitals there now are reporting emergency room admissions of very young children who have ingested marijuana as cookies or other attractive edibles they found in their homes.

We hope that Californians would be careful with their recreational marijuana. But human nature is not perfect and we can expect at least some adults will not adequately keep the edibles away from their kid.

For these reasons, Proposition 64 does not create "safe paths" for our children. In fact, as is unfortunately being demonstrated in Colorado's experience, it does just the opposite.

Dare we risk the learning potential of children in school, or even before they enter school, from casual or inadvertent exposure to marijuana advertising and marijuana itself? How many children will fail to achieve their potential because of this law?

Legalizing marijuana for recreational use presents a risk to California's children. As responsible adults we should not expose our society's children to the potentially devastating impacts inherent in Proposition 64.

(Most Rev. Michael C. Barber, SJ, is bishop of Oakland.)

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