With two grandchildren growing up amid Colorado’s experiment with legalized marijuana, I am especially interested in the possible consequences to young people from this exposure.

Some food for thought came last month from researchers affiliated with New York University’s Center for Drug use and HIV Research. The research is titled “Adverse Psychosocial Outcomes Associated with Drug Use Among U.S. High School Seniors: A Comparison of Alcohol and Marijuana.”

The findings were based on student answers from the annual nationwide study of behaviors, attitudes and values of American secondary school students. Responses came from high school students who reported using alcohol or marijuana in their lifetime.

The researchers’ finding that alcohol use was highly associated with unsafe driving, especially among frequent drinkers, is not surprising, but alarming, according to Dr. Joseph J. Palamar, an assistant professor of Population Health at NYU’s Langone Medical Center. He said: “Compared to non-drinkers, frequent drinkers were over 13 times more likely to report that their alcohol use has led to unsafe driving. Marijuana users, compared to non-users, were three times more likely to report unsafe driving as a direct result of use.”

There is little to assuage anxiety in this study, given that both alcohol and marijuana are available to our young people everywhere, whether or not it is legal. National statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show that in 2013 about the same number of adolescents were involved with alcohol abuse (1.6 million past-month binge drinkers aged 12 to 17) as marijuana and hashish (1.76 million).

Legal or not, Colorado or Wisconsin, this risk is embedded in our culture. It seems unlikely to me that legalization will have much effect other than to reduce the prison population of states that decriminalize it.

In the small mountain town where our grandchildren live, there appears to be strong opposition to retail sales of marijuana, a question that will be decided in a referendum on the ballot next month. But communities nearby have embraced the legalization and there are multiple retail outlets.

What I find encouraging in this scenario is the reflection of community values. We’re well enough acquainted in this town to know its close-knit nature where families look out for one another and find strong support from an outstanding school system. And we know and admire the values of our grandchildren’s parents, both those in Colorado and Wisconsin.

“Surveys of teens repeatedly show that parents can make an enormous difference in influencing their children’s perceptions of tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drug use,” said SAMHSA administrator Pamela S. Hyde.

As I think about it, all of our grandchildren are at risk from a variety of social experiments, most of them beyond the influence of parental counsel. Both states teeter politically between so-called red and blue approaches to governance. Wisconsin’s political culture, for example, can’t quite make up its mind between making it more or less easy for children to get a first-class education, whether to fund public education adequately or throw tax money at unaccountable private schools.

We have a political culture that can’t decide whether being “open for business” should trump protecting the state’s natural resources — clean water and air. It’s a political culture that can’t quite make up its mind on how tough to be on alcohol abuse, whether it’s behind the wheel of a car or on a college campus. It’s a political culture that dithers over what should be a no-brainer — protecting the right to vote and the value of that vote against the political power of money.

These are risks to our grandchildren’s future that we can address with our vote. I can’t vote in Colorado. But I can in Wisconsin. And soon.

Dave Skoloda is an award-winning journalist and former owner and editor of the Onalaska Community Life and Holmen Courier.

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Randy Erickson, formerly the editor of the Onalaska Holmen Courier-Life and Coulee News, covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or randy.erickson@lee.net.

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