by Michelle Leopold
When I discovered that my 14-year-old son Trevor was using cannabis regularly, I learned all I could about the new marijuana. I learned that the pot my friends smoked in college was maybe 2-4% THC, and 6% if you were lucky to score Maui Waui. THC amounts in today’s medical marijuana strains average around 25%, with some award-winning strains up to 35% THC, and Dabs up to 99% THC. This is not hippie grass. Marijuana affects brain plasticity and proper neural function in youth.
Our family did all we could to stop our son’s addiction (a 14-year-old brain gets hooked quickly). We sent him to rehab, where he was diagnosed with Cannabis Use Disorder. He came home and within a year his addiction became a greater problem. I found multiple fake IDs and cannabis club memberships. When he was coming down from a high, our home, vehicles, and even myself became a punching bag for his drug-fueled rages. He ended up attending six high schools including three rehabs before graduating from High School in 2019. And yes, the day after his 18th birthday, his first legal medical marijuana card appeared in the mailbox, despite his long-standing issues with drugs.
My beautiful boy Trevor died in his dorm room at Sonoma State, after ingesting a Blue 30 street pill that was a lethal dose of 3 types of fentanyl. His unformed brain caused the neurons to search out a higher high after being introduced to cannabis at age 14.
Since his death, I have been an outspoken advocate against youth use of marijuana – particularly the facts which led to Trevor’s addiction and ultimate death.
• Potency: I encourage people to learn about the strength of today’s marijuana – it is not “just pot”.
• Biology: How the brain is not fully formed until age 25 in most young adults, and the likelihood for addiction increases to 1 in 6 for youth using marijuana when starting before the brain has reached adulthood.
• Gateway: Today’s marijuana leads many young people in search of a higher high.
• Suicide: How marijuana use in young adults increases suicide ideation seven-fold (additionally, toxicology results in suicides show a 10% increase in marijuana since legalization in CO.)
I have nothing against medical marijuana use and was made fully aware of its benefits as a breast cancer patient in 2019. I have nothing against responsible adults’ use of marijuana.
As a California resident, I am appalled, however, with local policymakers who equate support of Prop 64 with opening cannabis retail storefronts. Just because someone voted on the state proposition, does not mean they want a dispensary in their neighborhood. We have heard that sentiment over and over from residents of my county, Marin, where Sausalito is the latest jurisdiction to consider breaking ranks with the rest of the county and allowing a portal for the highly commercialized recreational cannabis industry in their community.
I have to point out Sausalito’s proximity to the Golden Gate Bridge and note that adolescents who use cannabis have a seven-fold increase in making suicide attempts. I have first-hand experience of the tie between cannabis use and suicidal ideation from sitting in 12-step and grief groups with parents whose children have been lured to Sausalito’s International Orange icon. Another one of Trevor’s cannabis-addicted friends was dialing Uber to order a call (delete in red) to take him to the Golden Gate Bridge, when Trevor intervened and “talked him off the ledge”. In the first four years since legalization, Colorado coroners have seen a 10.5% increase in the prevalence of positive marijuana tests in toxicology reports, increasing from 11.8% at the onset of legalization in 2012 to 22.3% in 2016.
The latest marijuana statistics include:
• 30% of marijuana users have a use disorder.
• 9-17% of people who try marijuana will become addicted.
• And yes, marijuana is a gateway drug, especially for those with unformed brains, under age 25.
My son is more than a statistic. What tax revenue will be gained to make up for the price of my son, who now lies in a cemetery? And that revenue increase will be at the cost of more people addicted to cannabis in Marin County. How do I know that? Because we have seen the same practices with the tobacco, alcohol, and pharmaceutical industries. They profit from the suffering of others.
Personally, I have nothing to lose in this game except time. I already lost my oldest son to fentanyl poisoning caused by his addiction. I advocate against commercial retail cannabis because I know increased normalization and access will further hurt the youth of our county. Students themselves tell us how easy it is to get a fake ID or have someone go in a store to buy for them. Marin County already has skyrocketing youth cannabis use numbers – and with a dispensary nearby, Marin teen cannabis use rates will just get worse.
I implore residents of states or local jurisdictions where marijuana is being introduced, to consider the good of your entire community’s health over money. We need to decide what is best for all of our community. There are no gates to walls in cities allowing the sale of legal marijuana, so whatever is decided will affect all of the communities around. Our kids (and many adults) are growing up with marijuana use being marketed, normalized, and pushed by the cannabis industry. Our minds naturally and powerfully say “illegal is bad, legal is good”, and marijuana is no exception. However, legal marijuana access is not good for our youth.
Trevor’s letter to his parents while in treatment for cannabis use disorder/addiction
Letter of Accountability – by Trevor L
…I know my using has affected you… My using made me lose motivation for school also. I would sometimes ditch class and get high with friends. This led to falling even further behind in school. I still wanted to suceed(sic) academically, but when I showed up to class I often wouldn’t know what’s going on and I’d leave. This made me feel inadequate and embarrassed. When I got in trouble for using and getting caught, I denied it so I could do it more. In these moments I felt mad that I was punished for it and only made me want to use more. After situations like this I often became angry. I felt like you were trying to stop me and punish me for my actions which made me feel ashamed and violated. I had a tunnel vision towards getting high as it’s all I could think of. I tried gaining attention by self-destructive behaviors such as stealing your car, hitting myself and your property, saying depressing remarks and mean things towards you as well as more things. These events were in an act of rebellion and to gain attention to me as I felt inferior in most situations at home. I also recognize that I have problems with the law and I’ve gotten in trouble with the police on more than one occasion. An example of this is the incident that ended me up in Juvy and eventually going to (wilderness)… I already felt frustrated, powerless, and inferior. I then started arguing and my anger boiled over. I got up in your faces and yelled, threw my backpack at a wall, which made you call the police on me. I felt abandoned and broke the house phone and walked up the hill where the police were. I got in their faces and ended up at (a 5150) where they released me to Juvy. I felt like I was an outsider and I felt ashamed and abandoned. At this point I knew I needed help and agreed to get it. This is something I had a hard time with in the past. I was in denial of lots of things including my using and aspects of my at home life. I denied I had a problem with drugs and denied that they had an effect on the way I act. I also denied when I got in trouble. An example is when you’d find my drugs or smell it and I would say that I’m holding it for a friend, or that I wasn’t doing anything. I tried to lie and deny to make you not as disappointed in me and also so I could keep doing what I was doing. This damaged our relationship and I always felt dissapointed(sic) in myself.
When I used there was always a lack of honesty and communication because I felt like you would always fear the truth. This made me feel sad that I couldn’t openly talk about everything. Often I’d hang out with friends and lie about my whereabouts. This made you guys scared, especially when I’d dissapear(sic) for a couple days and you’d have no idea where I was. Not only did my actions affect you, but it also affected (my younger brother.) I am ashamed that I couldn’t be there for him in the past, and that my actions likely hurt him…
When I couldn’t provide for my using I started selling to gain extra money. I would sell to my friends so I could have a little extra pocket change to provide for my using. I got a natural high from selling and this fueled my self-esteem, and my self-image, making me feel better about myself. I loved the rush that drugs, and selling, gave me and I chased that high which led to stealing. I didn’t do this to (sic) often but when I would I would steal from other kids to get the high, get what I wanted, and to boost my self-esteem. My morals and beliefs did not match up with my actions. I often felt bad about what I did/was doing. I felt haunted by the damage I caused to the family and your property… In the future I’d like to be able to communicate openly and assertively.
Love you, Trevor