Mount Shasta Herald
October 21, 2020

Opinion: Measure L doesn’t contribute to a solution
Submitted by Alan D. Berkowitz, PhD, Weed

I write this letter as someone with over 35 years’ experience as an internationally recognized substance-abuse prevention specialist, including as the recipient of national awards on the topic, as someone who has worked as a Subject Matter Expert in prevention for all branches of the U.S. military, and who has numerous academic publications in this area. Although I do not physically live in Mt. Shasta I consider myself to be a concerned and active member of the greater Mt. Shasta community.

There is a well-established “science of prevention” based on decades of research that has documented both the causes of substance abuse and the means of preventing it. This research tells us that many of the factors that contribute to youth substance abuse, as well as the factors that protect against it, are not modifiable by legislation – factors such as family environment, personality and religiosity, to name a few. The two primary elements that can be addressed through legislation have to do with access to drugs, and what are called “perceived norms” – i.e. to what extent young people get the impression that alcohol or other drug use is “normal”.

Extensive research has established that the change in the legal drinking age to 21 has resulted in less alcohol use among high-school students as well as in reduced traffic facilities because it was successful in restricting high-school student access to alcohol. In the case of marijuana, Measure L would be considered beneficial if it could be argued that implementing it would serve to reduce youth access to marijuana. Personally I see no reason to believe that this would be the case due to the fact that current regulations and practices are effective in ensuring that local cannabis operations do not serve to increase youth access to marijuana.

A second relevant area of research is concerned with “perceived norms”. This research has confirmed that anything that serves to normalize alcohol or other drug use – i.e. to make it seem more “normal” or common than it really is – serves to increase use. For example, regulation of alcohol-related advertising has been successful in reducing youth over-estimations of alcohol use which in turn has reduced use and abuse. We can then ask the question, does the presence of industrial cannabis operations in Mt. Shasta serve to make marijuana use seem more common, accepted and prevalent? If the answer was yes, then it could be argued that reducing the visibility of such operations through regulation would be beneficial. Once again, my personal and professional opinion is that the current situation does not serve to “normalize” use. In contrast, the case could be made that the efforts on behalf of Measure L and the fears that are engendered could actually have the unintended effect of making the problem seem worse than it really is, which has been shown by research to be a cause of increased use.

Finally, it is clear from studies at the national and state level that most of our youth do not use alcohol or other drugs and that they make healthy choices to avoid doing so. In light of the above, I propose that our time and effort would be better served appreciating and reinforcing the healthy choices that the overwhelming majority of Mount Shasta youth are making, rather than to spend so much time and energy on undocumented solutions. Of course we can all agree that youth substance abuse – even if by a minority – is a problem. So the question then becomes, what is the solution and does Measure L contribute to it?