As politicians debate marijuana legalization, we at Phoenix House hope to make the issues of addiction and treatment part of the dialogue. On May 28, the New York Times published a letter from Phoenix House founder Mitchell S. Rosenthal, M.D., in response to an op-ed by Bill Keller of the New York Times. Keller’s May 19 column, “How to Legalize Pot,” outlined a long list of quandaries around legalizing marijuana. How will states deal with the fact that marijuana is still legal under federal law? How will they “keep the marijuana market from being swallowed by a few big profiteers”? How will states prevent drugged driving, allocate the money raised by taxing marijuana, and prevent a black market?
Dr. Rosenthal noted one dilemma that didn’t make the author’s list: Marijuana use poses a high risk for teens’ developing brains. How will parents convince children that legal marijuana still isn’t safe? Dr. Rosenthal outlined some of the ways marijuana use impacts teens brains differently than it does adults:
To the Editor:
Bill Keller gets it right: the question is no longer whether marijuana should be legalized, since whatever system emerges is going to put children at risk.
Pot is high risk for children because the part of the brain that censors dumb and dangerous behavior is not yet developed, while the pleasure-seeking part is fully functional.
So teenagers will do risky things, like driving while high. They’re also far more likely than adults to become addicted.
Pot smoking changes brain anatomy, retards maturation and impairs learning, memory and judgment. At the programs of Phoenix House, the overwhelming majority of adolescents we have treated used no drug more potent than marijuana.
So once the legislators are through, it will be up to parents to protect children, convincing them that legal does not mean “safe” despite what government allows.
Somehow Mr. Keller did not add the greatest dilemma to his list, which is just how any system of legalization can help parents to do this.
MITCHELL S. ROSENTHAL
Read Dr. Rosenthal’s letter on the New York Times opinion page.