Princeton Cannabis Task Force’s vision does not prepare young people for the future

By Sheila McLaughlin 

Future generations will be left holding the bag having to solve some of the most complex and existential challenges young generations have ever faced. Most of us will be leaving the burden of solving for climate change, biodiversity loss, and pandemics to our children. Future generations will need to harness a tremendous amount of intellectual energy and sheer collective will to solve these profound threats if they are to survive and thrive.

I wonder what messages we send young people when they see adults prioritizing easy access to marijuana only steps away from their schools. From a young person’s perspective, watching leaders of their community vigorously pushing to have cannabis dispensaries in their neighborhood must lead them to believe that enabling people to get high is our top priority. Given the tremendous weight young people have on their shoulders, shouldn’t we be directing their gaze to higher aims?

It is insidious that certain elected government officials are emphasizing retail access to drugs as a social justice initiative. Paterson, New Jersey is deeply committed to social justice and its leaders have outright rejected retail cannabis dispensaries. “Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right,” said Kenneth L. Simmons, the president of the school board in Paterson, who opposes a proposal to permit cannabis startups in a city where one in four people lives in poverty. “A revenue stream for city hall,” he added, “is not prosperity, especially when it brings another possible pitfall closer to our youth.” Even more glaring, the Princeton Cannabis Task Force includes a cannabis industry lobbyist whose mission is to maximize profit for the cannabis industry. Why would members of the town council insist on a 200-foot proximity to schools if there was no intention to appeal to young buyers? Will the town tolerate exploiting young people for commercial gains? Yes, I realize customers have to be 21, but let’s get real. Product has a way of insinuating itself into young people’s hands. If Princeton leaders are so committed to social justice, why not invest in jobs programs, career training, after-school enrichment, internships, and racial literacy programs? Are retail cannabis dispensaries the town council’s best idea for achieving positive social justice outcomes in Princeton? Does the town council really think more drug use will have a positive impact on social justice?

Young people will not be able to anesthetize themselves from the harsh realities of the 21st century, and community leaders are doing them a huge disservice by placing such importance on access to a drug that is known to create apathy, lethargy, and a lack of motivation. This is supported by many studies, including a National Institute of Health report citing studies that “reveal significant associations between cannabis use and a range of measures of educational performance including lower grade point average, less satisfaction with school, negative attitudes to school, increased rates of school absenteeism, and poor school performance.”

Teaching kids they should have easy access to cannabis so they can self-medicate and anesthetize their way through life is a recipe for national decline. Conversely, teaching kids that solving 21st-century challenges will require stone-cold sobriety and laser-focused attention is our moral obligation. True and good leadership prepares and inspires the next generation. Leadership that cares about the success of young people educates them on the harsh realities they will face. Let’s lift up the community and young people and show them what real leadership looks like. Tell Princeton’s town council you don’t support recreational retail cannabis dispensaries in our town. Email our elected officials and say no to pot shops: Mayor Mark Freda, Leticia Fraga, David Cohen, Eve Niedergang, Dwaine Williamson, Mia Sacks,  Michelle Pirone Lambros