Why Sanders’ support for marijuana undermines his education policy

Democratic Presidential Candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders has made some waves on the topic of marijuana.  First, in the Democratic Presidential Debate, he said he would vote in favor of legalizing marijuana if it were on the ballot in Vermont.  More recently, he announced that as President, he would push removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, opening up the floodgates for states to legalize marijuana.  This would be great news for the millionaires and billionaires who’ve made big investments in the marijuana industry.  However it would very bad news for education, which is a major platform in the Sanders presidential campaign.

Sanders misses what many liberal marijuana supporters also seem to miss, which is the fundamental link between marijuana use and academics.  Research makes it crystal clear that regular marijuana use, and marijuana dependence, is associated with reduced educational attainment and reduced career prospects.  One only needs a basic understanding of marijuana’s impact on the brain to see the obvious connection.  Science has established that regular marijuana use can negatively impact basic functions such as memory, attention, and learning.  When regular use develops in adolescence an persists into adulthood, these effects can become long-lasting and significantly alter the way the brain works.

When you review Sanders’ plans for education, there is a pretty consistent theme throughout his proposals.  That theme is reducing barriers to education; from early childhood education, to K-12, to college.  Frankly it is a very laudable goal and I find it hard to argue against many of his proposals.  However, none of those proposals are going to matter to an adolescent who has a substance use disorder.  If Sanders were to be elected, and were to pass his plan to legalize marijuana, youth access to marijuana would be increased demonstrably, which as we have seen in Colorado, leads to increased use.  And now, officials in Colorado are saying marijuana is the number one problem in schools.

It is problem here in Maine as well.  Data from the 2013 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey indicates that nearly 49.8% of students who were getting mostly D’s and Fs in school, reported using marijuana in the past 30 days.  Clearly, marijuana is a barrier to education.  It is a reason Mainers must give careful consideration to the question of legalization.  It is also begs the question as to why Sanders would support such a policy around marijuana.

I can only come up with two scenarios.  One, he simply doesn’t understand the science of marijuana and the impact on youth, and youth development.  The other scenario is the more cynical scenario of a desperate political ploy to differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton and to peel off her more liberal supporters.  I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt that it is the first scenario and hope with some more education, he will see how his support of marijuana would only build up the education barriers he is aiming to tear down.


Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

About Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C is a Certified Prevention Specialist and is the Director of Operations at AdCare Educational Institute of Maine, Inc. He currently serves on the Maine Substance Abuse Services Commission as well as the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention National Advisory Council. Scott volunteers as the Chair of the marijuana policy education and advocacy group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and is the current Board President of the Maine Council on Problem Gambling. Scott also serves as a Co-chair of the Prevention & Harm Reduction task force of the Maine Opiate Collaborative, the effort convened by U.S. Attorney Thomas E Delahanty, II to address Maine's growing opiate and addiction crisis. Scott is the recipient of the 2015 Maine Public Health Association's Ruth S. Shaper Memorial Award and 2015 Healthy Androscoggin Will Bartlett Award and is also the 2013 recipient of the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse Prevention Award.