Can We Please Stop Pretending Marijuana is Harmless?

These days, it’s become fairly square to criticize marijuana and its rush toward legalization. Twenty-three states have condoned the drug in some form, with four permitting recreational use, and Massachusetts is set to vote on permitting it next year. The proposed federal CARERS Act of 2015 would let states legalize medical marijuana without federal interference and demote pot from a Schedule I drug — one with high abuse potential — to Schedule II. The path toward nationwide decriminalization is looking unobstructed.

But underscoring the incredible momentum to legalize marijuana is the misconception that the drug can’t hurt anybody. It can, especially young people.

The myth that marijuana is not habit-forming is constantly challenged by physicians. “There’s no question at all that marijuana is addictive,” Dr. Sharon Levy tells me. She is the director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, one of a few programs designed to preemptively identify substance use problems in teens. At least 1 in 11 young adults who begin smoking will develop an addiction to marijuana, even more among those who use the more potent products that are entering the market.