Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Northern California’s Marijuana Problem

Ever since California legalized medical marijuana, there have been plenty of problems and confusing “gray areas” surrounding what constitutes legal and illegal marijuana use and marijuana growth throughout the state. While all counties in California are struggling to understand the legalities surrounding medical marijuana use and growth, the northern part of the state seems to be plagued by more than its fair share of problems.

This unfortunate fact is certainly true of the Humboldt Growers Association.

In the meantime, parents are struggling to keep the drug out of the hands of their teens. One thing is for certain: No matter what gray areas exist surrounding the legalities of marijuana, marijuana use among Northern California residents under the age of 18 is in no way condoned by any regulating agency.

What’s Legal?

Each county in California sets its own general rules about who can grow marijuana, how much marijuana can be grown, and what constitutes legitimate and legal medical marijuana use. With so many different counties having different rules, knowing what’s allowed and what’s not can be confusing. Matters of “legal” and “illegal” as they relate to marijuana growth and use are particularly confusing in Humboldt County because so many changes have been made over the past few years to local drug policies.

Right now, the current laws for growers of medical marijuana include:

  • Indoor gardens must be no larger than 50 square feet per parcel.
  • Indoor gardens must not utilize wattage greater than 1200 watts.
  • Indoor garden rules are stagnant and do not vary based on the number of patients a grower supplies.
  • No grower of marijuana, regardless of whether the garden is indoors or outdoors, may grow more than 3 pounds of marijuana.
  • Humboldt County cities Eureka and Fortuna have their own set of marijuana rules because they subscribe to SB 420 limits, which mean growers are limited to six mature marijuana plants and 12 immature marijuana plants and may not exceed one-half pound of marijuana.

Though these are the laws as they currently stand, there continue to be proposed changes to these regulations, causing even more confusion and often leading to both intentional and unintentional wrongdoing.

As of March of 2013, for example, the Humboldt Board of Supervisors is attempting to change the current laws to allow patients 100 square feet of growing space with no limit on the number of plants that may be grown. Also, as of late October 2013, the board was considering increasing the amount of allowed outdoor cultivation and allowing those growing on parcels ranging from one-half acre to five acres to grow without permits or any kind of regulation, an amendment that, if passed, could potentially prove quite dangerous to those who end up using unregulated and potentially harmful marijuana. All of this confusion is clearly adding up to a number of problems and a vast amount of uncertainty for the county. Unfortunately, this problem is not unique to Humboldt County or even to the northern part of the state.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

Absolutely. Though many would prefer to believe that it isn’t, both anecdotal evidence and research have proven the opposite to be true. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that about 9 percent of those who experiment with the drug or use it irregularly will ultimately develop a dependence on the substance. That number jumps up to one in six when the user begins smoking marijuana during his teen years. Should someone use the drug every day, the chance of developing a marijuana addiction skyrockets to somewhere between 25 and 50 percent.

Marijuana Use: Legal Consequences

Not only are California laws confusing and unclear to marijuana growers, but they are also equally confusing for holders of medical marijuana cards who are actively striving to utilize the drug within legal bounds. Of course, any and all use of marijuana without a prescription is considered illegal in California, though the punishments for illegal marijuana use have actually grown more lax over the years, a fact that may encourage some people, especially vulnerable and impressionable young teens, to illegally use the drug. The unfortunate result of this slow decriminalization process is that it inadvertently communicates that the use of marijuana is not dangerous and downplay the risks of its use, including the risk of addiction.

Current laws and consequences as they relate to illegal marijuana use in California include:

  • Those found in possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana do not face criminal charges but will simply face an infraction and have to pay a maximum fine of $100.
  • Those convicted of possessing marijuana in an amount greater than 1 ounce will be guilty of a misdemeanor and can face a fine of as much as $500 and may also spend as long as six months in jail.
  • Users of marijuana can be charged with felony “possession with intent to sell” if reasonable proof can be established that the person did intend to sell or distribute the drug. Many law enforcement officials get around the “1 ounce” law by charging offenders with this serious felony.
  • Illegal marijuana cultivation is a felony charge.
  • Selling or distributing marijuana to minors is a felony.
  • The manufacturing or sale of marijuana paraphernalia is illegal.

Though the legal issues can still be tough, they don’t even begin to compare to the physical, emotional and social effects that ongoing use of the drug can create in the life of the user, especially when the user is a teenager.

Marijuana Use and Teens

No matter how many warnings are issued in middle schools and high schools and no matter how involved the parent, some teens will still experiment with marijuana. Many teens view marijuana as harmless or progressive with little risk, and they take chances with their development and their future that they don’t completely comprehend.

These teens often don’t see the potential consequences of their actions; instead, they just see that marijuana has been decriminalized or legalized for certain purposes and feel that, because of these facts, they are safe from getting into any “real trouble.” When the fear of “trouble” is gone, teens are more likely to use marijuana, and ultimately, many find out the hard way that marijuana can be incredibly damaging, especially for growing and developing young teens.

For teens, marijuana can produce a variety of negative short-term and long-term effects – some that are specific to their development and age and others that negatively impact adult users of the drug as well.

Short-Term Effects of Marijuana

Some of the most serious short-term effects of teen marijuana use are the lowered inhibitions experienced by teens who smoke marijuana. Teens already do not have fully developed judgment capacities, so when already reduced judgment abilities are further impaired by marijuana use, the situation can prove disastrous.

Teens who are under the influence of marijuana are more likely to get into a car accident, become injured, and engage in unprotected sex, which can lead to unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and sexually transmitted infections.

Other short-term risks and effects associated with teen marijuana use include:

  • Impaired memory
  • Increased food intake, which can lead to weight gain and related health issues
  • Impaired learning ability, which can lead to poor performance in school
  • Impaired thinking
  • Impaired problem-solving ability
  • Decreased attention span
  • A lack of coordination, which can lead to accidents
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Delusions and paranoia
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Increased risk of heart attack

Parents and Their Influence on Teens

Parents are the most influential people in a teenager’s life. As such, if they condone marijuana use or use marijuana themselves, they increase the likelihood that their children will as well. Parents are encouraged to avoid marijuana use and any and all drug and alcohol abuse in order to be good examples to their teenagers; this includes the use of medical marijuana. There are many alternatives to medical marijuana for treating chronic pain and the symptoms associated with other medical conditions; parents are encouraged to seek out these alternatives. Those parents who feel that they absolutely must use medical marijuana should do so responsibly in order to model good behavior for their teens; it is also advised that they safely secure any and all marijuana, paraphernalia, and products that contain marijuana so curious teens don’t have access to the drug.

Parents are also encouraged to talk about the potential negative effects of marijuana with their teens, to know their friends and where they spend their time, and to regularly talk with their children about drugs, making it clear that no use is the only acceptable level of use. Though many parents believe that their children are more likely to listen to their friends rather than their parents when developing their opinion about drugs and alcohol, the fact is that many teens report that their parents’ opinions very heavily influenced their decisions about whether or not to try or use marijuana and other substances. The more vocal you are and the more “anti” your stance on the subject, the more likely it is that your child will be able to avoid the risks that come with use of these substances.

The Signs of Marijuana Use

Sometimes, even when parents do everything they can to model good behavior and talk with their children about marijuana, their children will still use drugs. Teens are naturally curious and, sometimes, they let that curiosity get the better of them even if they have a logical understanding of the potential risks.

If you discover that your teen is using marijuana, take the matter seriously and strongly consider getting professional help for him or her immediately. Marijuana use can be surprisingly difficult to stop cold turkey, and most teens will require rehabilitation in order to stop their marijuana use completely and permanently. It’s not something to be viewed as a passing phase; those who get treatment earlier on in their use are more likely to avoid drugs and alcohol in adulthood and remain relapse-free after treatment.

Of course, you can’t get help for your teen if you are not aware that he is using marijuana.

Some of the telltale signs of marijuana use to be on the lookout for include:

  • Increased pupil size
  • Increased thirst or hunger (e.g., “the munchies”)
  • The presence of rolling paper, pipes, bongs, and other drug paraphernalia
  • Decreased performance in school
  • Decreased motivation
  • Decreased attention to hygiene or general personal appearance
  • Associating with a new group of friends
  • Lingering marijuana odor
  • Bloodshot, dry eyes
  • Constantly appearing tired
  • Glorification of marijuana via posters, music, etc.

Seeking Help

If you find that your teen is smoking marijuana, it’s important to take action quickly. The following steps are recommended:

  • Talk to your teen. Getting a clear understanding of what is happening can be achieved through simple and clear communication.
  • Set boundaries. If your teen seems to understand that the behavior is not okay, your first step may be to institute a zero-tolerance policy going forward with very clear consequences. Should your teen break those rules, follow through on the agreed-upon consequences.
  • Seek help. If your teen continues to abuse that will help him stop using all drugs and alcohol.

Here at Muir Wood, we specialize in the treatment of teen boys who are struggling due to drug and alcohol abuse and behavioral issues and disorders. We provide intensive outpatient as well as inpatient treatment options, both of which address the issues facing your teen son as well as the family as a whole. Well-rounded treatment means the provision of academic support, outdoors and adventure therapeutic options, and intensive therapy on a personal level for your son. Support groups that promote positive interactions with peers and family therapy that works to rebuild positive relationships at home are also a big part of the equation.

Contact us at Muir Wood today via our call center or download an admissions packet to get started. Help your son move past drug use of any kind and begin his life with a foundation of health, wellness, and balance.