A New Jersey lawmaker introduced a bill to the state Assembly that would ensure third grade children are educated on the risks associated with cannabis use.

Assemblyman Erik Simonsen (R), a former teacher and vice principal who’s now the athletic director of a South Jersey high school, sponsored the bill. Drug education in New Jersey schools currently starts in seventh grade, but Simonsen believes third graders are old enough to understand the issue. And given the decision of New Jersey voters on Election Day to legalize adult-use marijuana – a measure yet to be enacted into law – Simonsen argues children are now more likely to come across cannabis and that education could help remove some of the prevailing social stigma.

“You learn that marijuana is affecting kids younger and younger, and given that it’s going to be legalized it was important to me to expand the education of it,” Simonsen said. “When it’s legalized, younger kids are going to see more of it in their homes and it takes the stigma away, like this isn’t bad cause it’s legal.”

The bill – AB 5168 – would require schools to educate children on marijuana from third to twelfth grade. Topics to be covered under the bill’s provisions include marijuana’s impact on the development of the brain and body in teenagers, THC’s effects on mood, the risks of marijuana addiction and driving under the influence of cannabis, and the distinction between using marijuana for recreational compared to therapeutic purposes. Simonsen also wants kids to be educated on the factors that influence whether someone chooses “to use or abstain from cannabis.”

Even without marijuana legalization in New Jersey, Simonsen says children in third and fourth grade are already trying cannabis and that this can lead to a host of problems such as paranoia and depression, hallucinations and even a permanent drop in IQ, the latter claim also being favored by former President Donald Trump.

“If people think that third graders or fourth graders aren’t experimenting, they’re nuts because I’ve seen it,” Simonsen said.

AB 1568 now heads to the Assembly Education Committee, with its companion measure under review by the Senate’s Education Committee.

Simonsen’s bill comes at a time when New Jersey lawmakers are at loggerheads over a bill to legalize cannabis, following the voter-approved ballot measure in November. Gov. Phil Murphy wants lawmakers to introduce a provision that would levy fines on persons younger than 21 in possession of marijuana, while opponents argue this would undermine efforts to minimize contact between law enforcement and marginalized young Black communities.

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