A cartoon illustration of four people stand together with legalize marijuana shirts

Opinion editor Sarah Grindstaff argues that marijuana and alcohol are incomparable with regard to age and legalization.

Opinion

The state of Illinois legalized marijuana Jan. 1 of this year. Up until now, much debate has surrounded this polarizing issue that many states still face.

Often, when argument-makers cite the still-controversial matter, one argument overshadows the rest.

Referring to age restrictions and the legality of alcohol, many claim that it is hypocritical for marijuana to remain illegal when adults have been regularly consuming alcohol, legally, for centuries. Marijuana, in all cases, is now fully illegal in only eight US states, including Kansas.

One cannot compare these two substances and use that argument as support for legalization. Frankly, marijuana is completely different than alcohol.

Firstly, marijuana and alcohol are completely different, with regard to their varying effects on underage users.

Given that the human brain is still considered developing between the ages of 18 and 25, it is dangerous for those within that age range to consume marijuana. Moderate to severe memory loss, slower decision making, and difficulty maintaining attention are common side effects of cannabis use, according to a Canadian government medical brief. These side effects can worsen and persist much longer in still-developing brains, even after one-time use.

While alcohol can also have detrimental effects on the developing brain, most notably the reduction of young drinkers’ prefrontal lobes, alcohol maintains its illegality for those most affected by these side effects. Similar laws are in place for recreational marijuana, but children under the age of 18, as well as young adults under the age of 21, can legally use medicinal marijuana with supervision from their parent or guardian. These precedents are dangerous for children and young adults who will undoubtedly further damage their brains.

With regard to age restrictions and general illegal use of both substances, alcohol, and marijuana are still incomparable.

While children can learn how to responsibly drink alcohol, based on advice and experience with parents, the same is not true for marijuana. Marijuana impacts every individual differently and can often induce psychotic episodes in users. With these dangerous effects, it’s impossible for parents to teach responsible use to their children.

While a kid can first consume alcohol by having a sip in church or on New Year's Eve, a single hit of pot could have a kid hallucinating all of their worst nightmares.

A recent Harvard Health study that surveyed nearly 600,000 alcohol users, across all genders showed a link between alcohol consumption and increased health problems like stroke, heart failure, and death. While the side effects are grim, they are consistent along gender lines, as well as standard survey sampling ages.

Marijuana use, on the other hand, is accompanied by a slew of varied health effects all varying depending on the user’s mental health, age, physical health, and other factors.

So let’s stop pretending that alcohol and marijuana are similar drugs. They aren’t. They affect people in different ways, and our young Americans should not be used as political pawns to prove otherwise. 

It is our job as young adults who may be tempted to try or regularly use this drug, and as the future leaders of this country, to protect American children and the inevitable thousands who could suffer addiction as a result.

If you are still tempted to utilize the argument that these two drugs are comparable, just remember this: you’re comparing a drug to another drug.

Nobody argues that alcohol is completely con-free. And if someone compares marijuana to alcohol, they are implicitly stating that marijuana is in the same dangerous drug class as alcohol and not a purely con-free substance.

Just because one drug is legalized doesn’t mean we have a duty to legalize another.

Edited by Brianna Wessling and Cameron Koons