In consideration of recreational cannabis becoming legal earlier this month, state legislators passed several bills signed into law by Governor Wes Moore to decriminalize the drug as the basis for charges of neglect by parents who personally used or simply possessed the drug in their homes although children on the premises have not consumed or come into direct contact with the drug.  

First introduced as a series of bills in the 2022 session by Prince George’s County Delegate, Nicole A. Williams, and Baltimore City State Senator, Jill P. Carter, the legislation signed by the Governor, entitled Child in Need of Assistance – Neglect – Cannabis Use, SB0653/CH0766 and HB0232/CH0767, became Maryland law July 1, 2023, in tandem with legalization of recreational cannabis.

Prior to the enactment of these new laws, cannabis was classified a Scheduled 1 narcotic (as it continues to be under Federal law) comparable to heroin and cocaine, and therefore was immediate grounds for child neglect charges if it was discovered or suspected of parental use in the course of a police investigation associated with child welfare. 

Despite decriminalization of use and possession of the drug due to its new legal status which protects parental users from child neglect simply for possessing weed in their home, the “threat” to young children and juveniles from the proliferation of cannabis is very real and greatly expanded.

Scientific evidence proves the strongest impetus for young people experimenting with intoxicants is mimicking their parents and other family members behaviors. In the case of alcohol consumption, the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports: “If children grow up in an environment where their parents or peers drink a lot and/or view drinking favorably, they may be more likely to drink themselves.”

The same is true of cigarette smoking. An analysis by Columbia University Public Health concludes: “The more a parent smokes, the more their teenage son or daughter will also smoke. Teenagers are much more likely to smoke and be dependent on nicotine if a parent is dependent on nicotine, especially daughters if their mother is dependent on nicotine.”

Now that cannabis consumption is more prevalent in Maryland, or at least more openly used, studies in other states where recreational cannabis is legal are already showing indications of where use among juveniles is likely headed. Quoting a 2022 examination by the University of California at San Diego: “young people, ages 12 to 20, were more likely to become cannabis users in states that legalize recreational use than in states that have not legalized the drug. An increased likelihood of use was also documented in adults.”

Among the biggest hazards to children from their parents relaxed use of weed in the home are the edible variety of cannabinoids, which many children mistake as candy and cookie snacks. There are also a selection of liquid cannabis mixtures on the market that kids can unsuspectingly consume from the family refrigerator with very dangerous consequences. 

A January 2023 paper by the Medical University of South Carolina found that “new research shows the number of children under the age of 5 accidentally poisoned by cannabis edibles has soared 1,375% since 2017… of those, 2-year-olds had the highest rate of exposure, followed by 3-year-olds.” According to online magazine “the [cannabis] edibles [market] segment grew to $3.4 billion in 2022; candy is currently the biggest edible subcategory accounting for 73% sales in 2022, followed by chocolates at 9%, beverages and pills tied for third place at 7%, then infused foods at 4% and “other edibles” accounting for less than 1% of sales.”

Cannabis intoxication for young children can have dire health consequences leading to hospitalization. The Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) reveals that “significant exposures can lead to severe hyperactive behaviors, slowed breathing, and even coma.”  The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta released findings earlier this month that “approximately 18.7% of U.S. persons aged 12 years [or older] used cannabis in 2021.” 

With dangerous public health issues associated with legal cannabis use already trending in other states, Governor Moore and state legislators may want to consider establishing a fund from a percentage of Maryland’s weed profits for public education, particularly directed at youth, to help mitigate negative social “side effects” from the drug.

In the case of legal lottery and casino gaming in Maryland, the state has established the Problem Gaming Fund to address bettors who suffer from gambling addiction. In 2022, the Fund received two-tenths of one percent (0.2%), $4.4 million, from the casinos and the Maryland Lottery’s $2 billion in combined revenues.

Regi Taylor
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