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Youth socialization of alcohol and marijuana: Some regrets and reflections

February 21, 2016

I’m an extremely modest drinker.  A glass of wine on Friday nights for Shabbat celebration with friends or an occasional glass with a special meal.  Despite the strength of the craft brewery industry in Washington, even a cold beer is a rarity for me.  Like most adults, I have dabbled with marijuana but find it uninteresting at best.

And yet as a parent of four kids ages 18, 16, 14 and 9–and a legislator looking closely at data, costs and broad bases fiscal impacts–I find myself reflecting more seriously on the new normal of the perception of socialization of alcohol and marijuana.

I passively and rather lazily voted in favor of the Costco-funded initiative to deregulate alcohol.  I acknowledge that I didn’t think too critically about the impact on the front lines in the long run and retreated to vague ideas that market competition rather than a strict government monopoly would work well for our state.

Today, I deeply regret our state’s tidal wave of deregulation of alcohol.  The critics were right in terms of the socialization of alcohol.


The idea that every corner Bartell’s and Safeway is bursting with hard alcohol seems to me to openly and boldly introduce alcohol to kids without filter or context.  The idea that alcohol is available in virtually any type of food store adds to the common acceptance, and I find it troubling on many levels.

Has our state seen a spike in the amount of alcohol consumed and related social problems?  I haven’t tracked down the data but suspect it’s worthwhile to explore.  The data itself is always changing but is important. 

As the lead sponsor of important ‘clean up’ legislation regarding marijuana regulation, I dove into the policy issues in 2015 and still consider our state’s grand experiment important public policy.  I voted for the marijuana initiative and believe we needed to take a legitimate step forward as a state in this area due to the nation’s paralyzed lack of dialogue about drug policy.  We had as a state and society damaged ourselves with the heavy criminalization of marijuana over so many years.  In effect, a case can be made that a jolt to the national and international markets in tackling society’s approach to marijuana was inevitable, and like others I thought few states were better positioned than Washington.  That’s the theoretical idea and there is some meaningful validity to the point.  But that does not fully capture the reality on the ground for youth, parents, teachers and others deeply concerned about the implications of full scale socialization of marijuana among youth.

To me a strong case can be made that perhaps we went too far too fast with too little structure, especially given the lack of framework to our medical marijuana system.

Perhaps we should have started with a well crafted decriminalization effort for two or three years rather than open the gates of social acceptance for youth so quickly and dramatically? We could then have ironed out the complex issues such as coordinating the recreational and medical markets, determining zoning and preemption issues with cities and counties, and better understood how to effectively design a youth prevention programs with our educational system.

Our state–driven by a long standing and genuine libertarian streak–has moved forward on the broad based acceptance of alcohol and marijuana usage.  The socialization of substance abuse for youth has a lot of implications that we are just beginning to see in the halls of our schools.

I don’t yet have data about whether we have categorically socialized alcohol and marijuana for youth but I intend to look into the question more deeply as the state Department of Health explores ways to impact kids in this critically important public health arena.

It’s not merely about socialization, of course, as I’ve been highly critical of the shameless addiction of lawmakers to the revenues from marijuana.  The political battle to reserve even a modest amount of the revenues for youth prevention was an epic fight in 2015, and one that I’m proud to have led successfully.  I was wrong (and the GOP was right) about the appropriate level and rate of taxation, but I was right (and the GOP was wrong) about the need for stronger investments in youth prevention.

For youth, counseling, mentoring, prevention education, awareness of the signs of depression and suicide, gun violence and other public health issues and many other concerns will never go away.  But we can use today’s thinking about health, education and awareness to more wisely inform our policy debates.  We can think more intelligently about evidence-based best practices, and we can help our schools and universities with a broader approach to public health.

We can’t go back into hiding in an old fashioned rhetoric and constraints of yesterday but we can most certainly look forward more critically with today’s generation for our kids, families and society.

We can redefine our very definition and strategic approach to public health for our youth and society.

You can be a hip parent, and even a hip parent-legislator, and still think we may have blindly charged down a new path with global implications without much caution about the journey ahead.

Your partner in service,









4 Comments leave one →
  1. Kathleen Smith permalink
    February 22, 2016 7:31 am

    The medical community is reporting an in increased amount of fungal pneumonia caused by marijuana. Fungal pneumonia is difficult to treat and very serious.

    Please consider legislation that moves in the direction of informing public about health risks associated with marijuana.

    My child in high school reports that significant amounts of students are using marijuana.

  2. Michael H. Wilson permalink
    February 22, 2016 8:55 am

    Ms Smith do you have any numbers from the medical community on this problem?

  3. John Novak permalink
    February 22, 2016 2:14 pm

    Good article. I appreciate your reflection and honesty. My thoughts…

    Why do we still have cannabis on schedule one in this state when the state openly declares medical value while at the same time selling it to anyone 21 and older over the counter?

    We need to get off the federal drug called “marijuana eradication” money, remove it from the state controlled substances act and stop building this monstrosity of hyper regulation and enforcement that’s so obviously written for stock portfolios. I recall speaking to this issue directly in one of your committee hearings in 2014.

    It is a Rube Goldberg machine that serves eggs and toast (covered in fertilizer and pesticides) while stabbing you in the back.

    It is time to stop using marijuana and kids as a reason to invalidate constitutional, medical and human rights of patients and adults.

    Might, seems to be, appears to, could, may and other non specific conclusions of perceived dangers are not valid reasons to marginalize people and deny us basic freedoms of society, culture and familial associaions given to users of alcohol, prescription drugs or tobacco.

    Cannabis users have contributed significantly to science, art and music as far back as history has been written, well beyond Cheech and Chong. It is time to let those of us making a safer choice to be given the same benefits and respect afforded to others.

  4. Drew permalink
    March 30, 2016 11:18 am

    Anytime you legalize something that was previously pitched as “absolutely taboo,” you’re going to have an uptick in participation immediately following. When kids turn 21 they go out and drink too much, because they’ve been told their whole lives they’re not allowed to have it.

    The issue you’re referring to as ‘socialization’ is really a cultural issue that can’t be effectively governed. I think you just have to wait it out. Sure, some people will get hurt, but maybe we should’ve thought about that before government went sticking its nose in people’s morality in the first place 80 years ago.

    We definitely do need to warn people that inhaling smoke of any kind into the lungs is a horrible health risk. As far is warnings like what we have regarding pregnancy and heart issues for things like alcohol and tobacco, I don’t think there’s a solid enough scientific consensus on those effects yet. Perhaps government’s rightful role here would be commissioning studies into the long and short term effects of various marijuana use levels (including considerations regarding ingest method; ie smoking vs edibles vs vapor, etc). Then we can put out the right message to our youth and parents alike rather than just running more fear campaigns.

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