Well, I’m afraid I’m about to write another article that makes me sound like an old fart again. I can’t seem to help it. Perhaps it’s the price one pays as a parent of two college students and a high school freshman. Then again, perhaps it’s just the price one pays for truly being an old fart.It’s not entirely my fault, however. In fact, in this situation I’m inclined to blame the great states of Colorado and Washington. That’s because this past November both of these states decided to rally their populations to pass laws allowing the recreational use of marijuana for adults ages 21 and older. Unfortunately, in the name of individual liberty and freedom, these states just made our parenting job that much more difficult, as if it weren’t difficult enough. So thanks for nothing, people of Colorado and Washington.Now you might be wondering, how does the passage of these laws in these two states – which applied to adults only – make our parenting job harder? After all, shouldn’t grown men and women have the right to smoke a little weed in the privacy of their own homes if they’re not bothering anyone else? And didn’t most adults already have some experience smoking pot during their lives with nary a side effect other than a belly ache from consuming too many corn chips thereafter? And aren’t most adults safely and responsibly consuming alcohol in the same recreational manner? Well, if you peel away the hint of sarcasm in these questions you’d be left with three of the most popular arguments used for years by those who advocated for legalizing marijuana. Now, I could jump in on that debate right here – taking the old-fart side, of course – but it’s irrelevant since I don’t really care what most adults do in the privacy of their own homes. I’m worried about the kids.Here’s the problem: adult laws and behaviors pertaining to substance use (whether the substances are legal or illegal) have a direct impact on the behavior of kids’ substance use. It’s just a fact. And the proof of that fact is this: there is a direct correlation between kids’ perception of a substance’s safety and the kids’ rate of using it. In other words, the more benign – or less dangerous – kids perceive a substance to be, the more they’ll use and abuse it. This is one of the few points regarding substance abuse upon which most people agree. That’s because the facts are indisputable.The University of Michigan is just one of many sources that shows an inverse relationship between marijuana use and perceived risk. The data shows that throughout history, as the perceived risk of marijuana decreased, its usage went up. And inversely, when the perceived risk of marijuana increased, the use went down. This inverse risk/use relationship graph looks the same for other substances as well – and in fact, along with accessibility to a substance – explains most of the rises in rates of substance use and abuse throughout history.For example, in the 70’s and 80’s kids turned to inhaling glue and household cleaners because they saw inhalants as a cheaper and more easily accessible way to get high. Plus they were under the (severely false) impression that these inhalants were a safer high than other drugs at the time. Also, in the past two decades, use and abuse of prescription and OTC medicines has grown dramatically as kids have had easy access to their parents’ medicine cabinets, and then also wrongly perceived that these drugs must be relatively safe (even at extra doses) since they were sold over the counter, prescribed by physicians, or because their parents were taking them themselves. And most recently, so-called “synthetic marijuana” has grown in popularity as kids turned to this substance which is readily available in tobacco shops and convenience stores, and thus perceived by kids to be completely benign. With a growing incidence of “K2” and “Spice”-related hospitalizations, however, states have been scrambling ever since to quickly pass laws that will get these substances outlawed.Conversely, the same research shows that teen-aged cigarette smoking has actually continued to decrease from its peak usage in 1996. And in fact, the decline since that time is striking (e.g., in 1996 49% of 8th graders had tried smoking, but by 2012 only 16% had done so.) And predictably, this trend is driven by two primary factors. The first is that teens’ accessibility to cigarettes has dropped dramatically, since during that same period the laws governing cigarette sales tightened significantly while cigarette costs have risen sharply. The second is that teen-aged perceptions of cigarette smoking risk during that same period also rose sharply (due, in part, to aggressive PR and educational campaigns highlighting the severe cancer and heart disease consequences). So like all other substances, when it comes to tobacco, the perceived risk combined with the ease of accessibility are driving usage rates; but this time it’s working to parents’ and kids’ advantages.So where does all this leave us parents when it comes to marijuana? Well, if this relationship between perceived risk/easier access and teens’ usage rates is a given – as it seems to be – then the laws in Colorado and Washington do not help our cause. (This assumes, of course, that our cause is to prevent teens from using marijuana along with other substances; hopefully a safe assumption for most discerning parents.) If the majority of two state populations embrace a message that smoking marijuana recreationally is okay for adults, then the message to kids is, “gotta’ be okay for us kids too.” And this isn’t the first such message that our kids have gotten on this subject. In fact, between 1998 and 2012, 18 states have passed so-called medical marijuana laws, with three more states considering such legislation in 2013. Here too, the message to kids has been consistently growing: “see, Mom and Dad, marijuana is becoming legal everywhere because it’s actually good for you!” And with these laws comes not only that perception, but also increased access to the drug. (If you don’t believe me, ask any college student at the University of Colorado or Colorado State how easy it is to get a medical marijuana card for “stress” or other “medical conditions.”)So this is what parents are up against. The perceived risk of marijuana is decreasing while its access is increasing. That should be a pretty big “yikes” for any parent of middle-school-aged kids and above.The stakes are pretty high. As more states pass these medical and recreational marijuana laws, there’s no doubt that teenagers’ perceived risk regarding marijuana will continue to decrease. And history proves that usage rates will, as a result, continue to rise. That’s a problem. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that clinical diagnosis rates for marijuana abuse and/or dependence for minors has increased by a staggering 492% since 1992 (while addiction rates for alcohol and all other substances went down). Marijuana addiction is considered by medical experts to be a a psychiatric disorder and a pediatric onset disease, since nearly two-thirds of all initiates begin using it prior to age 18. Of course, not everyone becomes addicted to or dependent upon marijuana. But those who start smoking marijuana before age 18 have nearly double the risk of addiction versus those who start later. And the health risks for young people are significant and well documented (e.g., withdrawal, anxiety, depression, psychosis, injury, sexual assault, etc.).Earlier this year, retired Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, began speaking out against what he termed was knee-jerk support for marijuana legalization, especially among his fellow liberal democrats. Kennedy is now leading a group project called Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana – http://learnaboutsam.com/ ) which opposes legalization. He claims that the legalization laws have been misguided; that new laws should have instead focused on decriminalization and on drug dependency treatment programs. (The theory here is that the War on Drugs which began decades ago was too heavy on criminal punishment for use and possession, and too light on treatment, thus flooding the court system and prisons with harsh penalties while not helping the users/abusers recover.) I’m not sure if this movement will gain any traction, but at least someone’s out there raising some red flags.One of the most popular arguments for marijuana legalization is that it’s no worse than – and perhaps safer than – alcohol, which is already legal. As parents of teenagers, we should take little comfort in that argument. There are two drugs that cause most of the world’s mental health problems, physical injuries, criminal behaviors and deaths. Those drugs are tobacco and alcohol. They’re both legal. So the old fart in me has to ask, why do we need a third? But more to the point we should be asking, why do our kids need a third?