By Madison Matella
When I found out that California deemed marijuana businesses and liquor stores “essential,” amidst the closure of schools, churches, gyms, and various other forms of healthy recreation, my jaw dropped as I realized the tremendous risk this poses to my generation.
These are unprecedentedly tense and stressful times, and it’s common for adults and even teens to cope with these stressors by using substances such as alcohol and marijuana. And now, as remote learning ends, and restrictions are lifted, the summer months may lead more teens to try drugs and alcohol, since this is a more common time for first-time experiences with harmful substances.
The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) began receiving complaints about how easy it was for minors to get alcohol under these relaxed rules. They put together an investigation with underage decoys and found significant violations of the law both from restaurant businesses and third-party delivery services.
This is concerning because youth who begin drinking before age 15 years are six times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse than those who begin drinking at or after the legal age of 21.
In addition, California deemed marijuana businesses “essential” in the midst of a respiratory illness pandemic, yet developed no plans to fund or conduct decoy investigations to prevent marijuana businesses from delivering to minors.
Last year, adolescent marijuana vaping from 2018 to 2019 was ranked among the largest single-year increases ever observed by Monitoring the Future. Just this May, California had eight additional cases of people hospitalized for E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) from vaping THC, and their median age was 17!
With restrictions being very minimal, enforcement is an essential piece to ensure these mind-altering substances do not get into the hands of minors. Apps that provide the sale of marijuana and alcohol need accurate systems for checking IDs from all customers, and appropriate penalties must be in place for businesses and drivers who deliver these products to minors.
Decoy operations and Tobacco Retail Licensing programs have been effective in reducing alcohol and tobacco sales to minors at stores. However, allowing alcohol and marijuana to be delivered right to people’s homes, without first developing a plan to hold everyone accountable for not delivering to minors, creates enormous problems that could have been prevented.
During this climate of changing values and priorities surrounding COVID-19, teenagers have opportunities to get involved in building a thriving future. After joining the Be the Resistance Chapter of North Coastal Prevention Coalition at Oceanside High, I’ve learned the power my peers and I have to influence positive change and halt the rise of addiction. Groups like this exist in every community, and need our help.
Despite our efforts, however, it is imperative that lawmakers recognize that by labeling marijuana businesses and liquor stores “essential” during this COVID-19 crisis, they are sending a dangerous message to adolescents that these harmful substances are just as important as groceries, and therefore ought to play a key role in their lives.
This is not the picture we want to paint and presents a frightening prospect for the future of alcohol and drug dependency. My generation of teens will remember those role models who stand up for our health rather than push it aside as we grow up in this changing world.
Madison Matella is a junior at Oceanside High School and Vice President of the Be the Resistance Club affiliated with the North Coastal Prevention Coalition.