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Myth: Legalizing Marijuana Will Kill Kids

Matthew Koehler Matthew Koehler
16th March 2021
Myth: Legalizing Marijuana Will Kill Kids
Ricketts' claim is based on a myth (Getty Images).

The Claim

Legalizing marijuana will kill children.

Emerging story

On March 12, The Recount posted a video of Governor Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.) at a press conference claiming that marijuana is a dangerous drug and legalizing it would kill kids. Specifically, Ricketts said, "So this is a dangerous drug that will impact our kids. If you legalize marijuana, you're gonna kill your kids. That's what the data shows from around the country." 

The short video clip racked up almost 10,000 retweets, with a few accounts backing up the claim – but the vast majority of users appeared to disagree with Ricketts. 

The press conference was held ahead of a unicameral committee hearing on whether or not medical marijuana will appear on the ballot in Nebraska in 2022. 

A supporting image within the article body
A supporting image within the article body

Other users on Twitter backed their commentary up with graphs. 

A supporting image within the article body

Misbar’s Analysis

Misbar looked into the claim and found that evidence suggesting that legalizing marijuana/cannabis leads to widespread deaths in either children or adults is hard to come by and that the cases that do exist aren't straightforward. 

In an op-ed for the Star Herald two weeks before the viral press conference, though, Ricketts detailed his case against any form of marijuana legalization. He said that states that legalized marijuana for any kind of use, medicinal or recreational, "have seen a human toll," which includes "devastating effects on kids, tragic accidents...and horrible mental health outcomes." 

There have been many stories over the years attempting to link marijuana directly as a cause of death, but further investigations of those stories have turned up other contributing factors, or found the link to marijuana more tenuous than previously claimed. 

One misleading story about cannabis-related deaths in children comes from a 2015 op-ed in The Arizona Republic. A Yavapai County Attorney and vice-chair of Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy claimed that "marijuana use was associated with the tragic and needless deaths of 62 children in Arizona." 

However, a follow-up op-ed in the same paper later pointed out that "associated" means a whole host of things that aren't the same as causation. Quoting the Arizona Child Fatality Review Program, the second writer says: 

"The CFR program defines substance use as associated with a child's death if the child, the child's parent, caretaker and/or if the person responsible for the death, during or about the time of the incident leading to the death, used or abused substances, including illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and/or alcohol."

The second writer points out that "associated" does not mean the kids were themselves using marijuana, nor does it mean that marijuana was the direct cause of their death. 

Another story that made headlines was that of an 11-month baby who died from myocarditis allegedly brought on by eating a toxic dose of THC. Other medical professionals interviewed for the story were skeptical and suggested an allergic reaction as a possible culprit, among other contributing factors. One doctor said that there are "thousands of known cases of accidental ingestion of marijuana by kids of all ages...none of those cases have proven fatal." Ultimately, the child's death was never determined to be definitively cannabis-related. 

Commenting on Ricketts' viral claims about the immediate dangers of marijuana, USA Today reported that marijuana "has never been linked to a fatal overdose." And the CDC says that an overdose, even for small children, is unlikely. 

There are, however, plenty of studies showing that THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis, is not good for the developing minds of children and young adults, but neither is regular use of any controlled substance – especially for children. And, as many have pointed out, the potency is much higher than it used to be, which leads to unknowns that many researches say need to be studied to be understood. 

Still, any internet search for cannabis-related deaths in children will not turn up much. There aren't many cases of it. The cases that do exist are not cut and dry, so the idea that legalizing marijuana would lead to widespread childhood fatalities is both an anecdotal and statistical myth. 

Misbar’s Classification


Misbar’s Sources

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