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What Are the Legal and Health Implications of Marijuana Use for Minors and Their Parents?

In a previous blog, we introduced Part 1 of a two-part article series written by our own Attorney Jacqueline Harounian discussing the recent legislative trend in New York regarding marijuana use and its potential impact on family law issues. This blog will present Part 2 of the series where Jackie delves deeper into the legal and health implications of marijuana use, including custody issues affecting parents.

What Are Marijuana’s Effects on Adolescent Brain Development?

Marijuana’s ability to alter the user’s mental state is what makes it appealing to users. Its short-term effects include altered sensations, impaired judgment, and audiovisual hallucinations. In rare instances, marijuana use can lead to acute psychosis and schizophrenic episodes.

However, marijuana consumption can have long-term and sometimes permanent detrimental effects on young users. According to experts, it only takes one or two hits of marijuana smoke to alter a teenager’s brain structure. This could determine the child’s propensity toward conditions such as anxiety, depression, suicide, or addiction, as they mature into adulthood.

One study suggested a strong correlation between marijuana use and the thickening of grey matter tissue for adolescents. This phenomenon is the opposite of what normal brain development should look like as teenagers go through puberty – thinner brain matter that’s more refined. Furthermore, the areas of the brain affected by marijuana use are responsible for regulating emotions such as fear, memory development, and spatial skills.

Because brain development continues until a person reaches age 25, the potential adverse effects of marijuana use can manifest until well after college for many young adults. For those children who start drinking or smoking before the age of 15, the chances that they’ll struggle with mental health issues throughout their life is considerable.

How Does Alcohol Affect Neurological Development?

The negative impact of alcohol use during the early years of adolescent development is significantly higher than that of marijuana use. “While marijuana may also have some negative consequences, it definitely is nowhere near the negative consequences of alcohol,” said Kent Hutchinson, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Boulder. However, the full nature and extent of marijuana’s harmfulness on brain development is yet to be determined. Ultimately, parents should be aware of the fact that substance use – both alcohol and marijuana – can be hazardous to the developing brain of a teenager.

The Role of Vaping

The use of portable electronic devices to simulate smoking by way of heating flavored fluid into opaque plumes of vapor has started to pervade schools throughout New York. Better known as “vaping,” teenagers have been taking advantage of this product’s discreet ability to be used virtually undetected. Vaping devices such as the popular “Juul” are compact enough to fit in someone’s pocket unnoticed. Furthermore, using a vaping product doesn’t leave behind a lasting residual odor as cigarettes do.

Vape fluid can contain nicotine, a highly addictive flavorless and odorless chemical found in tobacco products. Marketing efforts for vape businesses target impressionable teenagers in order to convert them into lifelong customers. Moreover, marijuana businesses have already adapted vaping technology as a system for delivering tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other marijuana products into the body.

Legal Implications

Given that marijuana use can impair motor coordination, reflexes, and judgment, the attendant risks of driving while high have understandably become a public health and safety concern. However, there is currently a lack of conclusive data on any correlation between marijuana consumption and traffic accidents trends. Furthermore, information regarding marijuana metabolizing rates is still being compiled. As a result, driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges for marijuana use lack the kind of standards that blood alcohol content tests have.

Furthermore, there are state laws prohibiting parents who host social parties from providing minors with an opportunity to consume drugs or alcohol. Additionally, the state education law prohibits children from bringing illegal substances to school, punishable by suspension or expulsion. Moreover, state family law courts have the authority to issue protective orders that will remove a child from a parent’s custody if they determined that access to, or the use of, marijuana endangers the minor child’s health and safety.

Ultimately, the legal implications of decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana has potential health implications for children, co-parents and custodial parents. Jackie urges parents to educate their children with the goal of promoting awareness about marijuana’s risks: “Education and awareness begins at home, and parents must do their part to stop this trend, because it will be our problem to deal with if it escalates.”

Wisselman, Harounian & Associates Can Help You and Your Family

If you are facing a complicated family law issue, you should contact an experienced Long Island family law attorney like Jacqueline Harounian. As a law partner of Wisselman, Harounian & Associates, Jackie has the experience and sophisticated understanding of New York matrimonial and family law to provide you and your family with comprehensive and pragmatic legal advice. Her multi-disciplinary background gives her a unique perspective into the fundamental needs of each family she represents.

To arrange a free, confidential consultation, call us at (516) 406-8500 or submit an online form to Wisselman, Harounian & Associates today.

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