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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Marijuana legalization good for education

Recreational marijuana has increasingly made headlines over the past decade, and now Arizona is entertaining notions of legalizing the plant in the coming 2016 state election.

Aside from the tax revenue and fewer drug arrests, legalization could mean the end of education shortages.

Arizona ranks 50th in the national rankings for education, with funding perhaps topping the list of things we need to improve. According to The Arizona Republic, marijuana sales could tackle that problem by bringing in $40 million for education and health care.

To all who cry out that legalization will create more potheads and encourage underage smoking, higher funding for education may actually help balance out the risks of legalizing marijuana.

When toying with the idea of legalization, it becomes more important than ever for voters to sort out the marijuana facts. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a growing number of adults believe that marijuana is not harmful to the body and isn’t addictive.

While it’s true that the short term effects of the drug are definitely not lethal, and that the plant isn’t toxic to healthy cells and organs, legislators and voters alike should remember that marijuana isn’t safe if consumed irresponsibly.

If overdosed, marijuana can cause increased heart rate, breathing problems, hallucinations and paranoia. Marijuana has also been linked to anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Within the purview of education reform, perhaps the scariest thing marijuana can do is make you dumber.

In a study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine in August 2012, marijuana users aged 13-38 were IQ tested every few years. Those with no exposure to the drug or infrequent use starting after the age of 18 showed consistent to slight improvement in their IQ over the course of the study. Those who used marijuana weekly before the age of 18 and continued to do so into adulthood showed a drop in eight IQ points.

Some might think, how could a substance that poses the long-term risk of decreasing IQ be good for Arizona students?

But these concerns are trivial compared to larger problems Arizona students are facing, and fear of legalization doesn’t give us an excuse to be distracted from those issues.

The Arizona Department of Education’s The Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that the number of students who used marijuana one or more times in a month in 2003 was 25.6 percent, only dropping to 23.5 percent in 2013.

Student alcohol consumption, on the other hand, was 51.8 percent in 2003 and dropped to just 36 percent in 2013. In only a decade, alcohol use was significantly decreased thanks to development of youth awareness programs.

Although education programs have been a great step forward, alcohol abuse is still a major issue for adults nationwide.

A study collected in 2014 by the University of Michigan shows that 66 percent of American 18-year-olds have consumed alcohol in their lifetimes. By age 21-22, that number jumps to 87 percent. 96 percent of Americans drink by age 27.

Of course drinking, unlike marijuana use, is not a crime, and drinking occasionally usually doesn’t harm anyone. But in our culture, drinking occasionally isn’t “cool.”

What’s “cool” is the 19 percent of 18-year-olds who drink five or more drinks in a row during a two-week period. “Cool” is the 38 percent of 21-22 year olds who binge drink at this same level.

It’s hard to determine the same values for illegal marijuana use. But, odds are that you know a few students who do weed monthly, even daily.

Marijuana, like alcohol, can be easily abused. And if legalization does happen, we need to address bad habits at a young age with education.

According to the Arizona Department of Education, 24.9-37.2 percent of students who get A’s and B’s report drinking once or more monthly and 11.8-21.5 percent report smoking once or more monthly. For students getting C’s, D’s, or F’s, the numbers rise to 44.4-53.6 percent drinking and 36.2-39.6 percent smoking during each month.

The data doesn’t lie—drinking and marijuana use is certainly a problem for Arizona schools, especially when substance use is linked with performance in school.

But the biggest problem is lack in funding, which only contributes to lacking drug education.

Arizona needs the $40 million for its schools. Some of that money could easily be put aside for drug education. Marijuana legalization could tackle two birds with one stone: Bringing revenue for schools and improving drug education in those schools.

Alcohol has been a part of normative behavior long before America was founded, and we’ve adapted accordingly. But marijuana is just gaining speed. With legalization, we have a rare opportunity to educate future generations before the joint starts rolling.

Follow Ashleigh Horowitz on Twitter.

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