Marijuana Moratorium?

September 5, 2017:- Should Amherst place a temporary moratorium on marijuana establishments? That is one of the questions before the Select Board’s zoning subcommittee on Wednesday.

Last month, the Amherst Bulletin ran a story on the subject, quoting Economic Development Director Geoff Kravitz, who pointed out that the statewide Cannabis Control Commission will issue regulations that delineate the role of local licensing authorities, but not until next March. That gives very little time for the Town to prepare for the license applications, which will start arriving in April.

To my mind, a temporary moratorium seems like a wise move. What do you think? To vote in my informal poll, just scroll down.

— Peter

P.S.  Here is what I wrote back in 2012, shortly before the statewide vote on medical marijuana:

On November 6, Massachusetts voters are probably going to legalize medical marijuana. Based on the experience of other states, a very likely outcome will be an uptick in marijuana use among high school students.  Another outcome, which the latest science tells us we should expect, is that their IQs will decline as a result.

Here in Amherst, we talk about education out of both sides of the mouth. We expect academic excellence. But at the same time we acquiesce in high-schoolers’ use of euphoriants that permanently reduce IQ levels. In fact, most twelfth-graders in Amherst Regional High School think we do more than acquiesce: Approximately 60% think that our community’s laws and social norms actually favor drug use. We are sending high school students mixed messages at a time when they need and deserve greater clarity.

On the one hand, we all agree that Amherst values education.  It may be a cliché, but people really do move here for the schools. On the other hand, we tolerate (some would say promote) the use of cannabis, largely in the herbal form of marijuana.  If we really want to help our kids get through school and move on to happy, fulfilling lives, one of the most effective steps we can take is to get our stories straight. In order to do that, we need an open, community-wide conversation about our expectations.

Incidentally, this article is not a plug for prohibition. As it happens, I support legalizing medicinal marijuana, even knowing that it will probably result in greater marijuana use among high school students. Understanding the likely consequences of my vote means I have a share of the responsibility for fashioning a workable public policy response. That response requires a public conversation, and a starting point would be the survey that the Strategic Planning Initiative for Families and Youth (SPIFFY) conducted in the high school last year.  The survey results show how two of our communal standards – commitment to academic excellence and tolerance for marijuana use – are at odds with each other.

So will marijuana reduce your chances of getting into a good college? Heavy use of cannabis, like heavy use of alcohol, causes lasting damage to the teenage brain. An article in this year’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, based on a 25-year study, showed that people in their 30s who started using cannabis as adolescents experienced serious neuropsychological impairment.  Memory, attention, and IQ all suffered. And the longer the subjects smoked for, the worse the damage.

While the SPIFFY survey reveals that about 70% of twelfth-graders thought their parents considered marijuana use wrong, almost 60% thought that Amherst’s laws and community norms actually favored drug use. What high school students are hearing from the town as a whole – contrary to what their parents are telling them – is that pot is harmless. But the study that tracked smokers over 25 years points to the opposite conclusion: Smoking marijuana regularly from adolescence onward causes brain damage, with the effects starting during the teens.

This should not come as too much of a surprise, given that we already know the brain undergoes rapid development in the teenage years. What should surprise us, however, is our failure as a community to connect the dots and think through the policy implications of this basic fact: Brain damage can have a negative impact on your SAT scores. If we want students to excel academically, we should not encourage them to smoke pot.

Thanks to the survey, we know what our high-schoolers think we think. They think we think it’s OK to smoke pot. Are they right? They deserve to know one way or the other. With leadership from the School Committee and Select Board, a community conversation about marijuana use could provide our high school students with a clear sense of what we really think.

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