DHSS News Promoting the health and well-being of Alaskans. June 2019

Marijuana taxes help fund marijuana misuse prevention programs

After retail marijuana was legalized in 2014, the Alaska Legislature recognized the importance of preventing youth access to marijuana, educating adults about the health effects of marijuana and informing the public about marijuana laws. As a result, Senate Bill 104 was passed last year which created a Marijuana Education and Treatment Fund. This fund serves as a special account in the general fund where 25% of the excise tax collected on marijuana products is deposited.

With the help of this fund, the Office of Substance Misuse and Addiction Prevention (OSMAP) is expanding activities to include evidence-based and practice-informed marijuana misuse prevention strategies. The comprehensive program uses prevention, public education, evaluation and treatment strategies to mitigate the risks associated with marijuana use among youth and pregnant women, as well as heavy use among adults.

The primary focus of the program is dedicated to youth marijuana use prevention. Adolescent use of marijuana has been associated with a range of developmental and social problems. Early and continued use of marijuana can have harmful effects on brain function, including to memory and attention, which can make learning and decision-making difficult. Adolescent marijuana use is also associated with poorer school performance, increased school absence and greater risk of dropping out without graduating.

Research increasingly shows how an individual’s social conditions and life experiences influence different types of behaviors. These social and personal influences can be either risk factors or protective factors that affect the individual’s behaviors. The more risk factors an adolescent or their family, school or community has, the more likely they will be to engage in risky behaviors like substance use or delinquency. On the other hand, protective factors can help prevent risky behaviors and encourage participation in healthy behaviors such as being involved in activities after school.

The 2017 Alaska Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) data indicate youth participating in activities after school are 29% less likely to have used marijuana in the past month, a connection supported by national research regarding protective factors and behavioral outcomes. Studies have found that adult supervision and after-school activities for youth can mitigate juvenile crime during after-school hours. Youth are off the streets, engaged in positive activities with their peers and positive role models.

The growing legalization of—and therefore tax revenue from—adult-use marijuana can open doors for after-school advocates and professionals to be ever-more creative about how they can support and serve young people. To this end, the department is investing in after-school programs. The Positive Youth Development After-school Program will support projects increasing protective factors and reducing risk factors through services provided outside of school hours (i.e., evenings, weekends and school breaks) for youth entering fifth through eighth grade. Preventing or delaying the initiation of adolescent marijuana use, and other substance use, during this crucial period helps to ensure healthy brain development and reduce the likelihood of future substance misuse.

 

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