By Gary Streile, GPS Parent Partner

In 2012 WA state voters approved I-502, which removed state legal prohibitions against producing, processing, and selling marijuana. It also made marijuana sales subject to licensing and regulation by the liquor control board, and subject to an excise tax. Details of the disbursement of this excise tax were laid out in RCW 69.50.540. Item 5d of that RCW specifies that a portion of the excise tax should go to the state Basic Health Plan (BHP) trust account. The intent was for this money to be used for prevention, recovery support, and treatment services for persons with mental illness and substance use disorders.

However, because of the advent of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (with expanded Medicaid and an active health insurance exchange), the BHP was eliminated in 2014. When the BHP was eliminated, the marijuana excise tax set-aside for it never occurred.

As a Parent Partner here at Guided Pathways, I’ve worked with a number of parents who are concerned with the marijuana use of their kids and its apparent impact on their behavior, day-to-day life regimen, and performance regarding school or work. Dr. Leslie Walker, chief of the adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington (UW), works with kids who use marijuana. And she has seen marijuana cause the kinds of physical withdrawal and cravings that make kids continue to use even in the face of serious negative consequences. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), research shows that about 9% of those who use marijuana become addicted, and 25%-50% of those who use marijuana daily end up abusing it. Furthermore, 62% of youth who have been admitted to treatment for substance abuse say that marijuana is what got them started. Dr. Kevin Haggerty, associate director of the Social Development Research Group (SDRG) at the UW, says that marijuana is the number one drug kids go into treatment for. And some emergency room visits are also related to marijuana, including visits for treatment of young kids. In a post I-502 world, “consumable” marijuana products will be increasingly available. And researchers at the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center have announced that half of all cases of ER visits for kids younger than age 12 for “unintentional ingestion” of marijuana in the past few years involved consumables.

Public systems provide most of the substance abuse treatment services in Washington. However, they only have the capacity to serve a small portion of the need that exists. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicate that only 1 in 18 young people in Washington who need treatment receive it.

Because of the legalization of marijuana provided by I-502, and the greater access to marijuana that should result, it is expected that the need for prevention and treatment services will grow (even as resources for behavioral health services have been shrinking). So, it makes logical sense to me to use some of the revenue resulting from its legal sale to provide the publicly-funded prevention and treatment services that are necessitated (at least in part) by its use.

The BHP portion of the excise tax was originally designated for these programs. A simple legislative fix could achieve the intended purpose for the BHP funds by directing them to evidence-based or research-based intensive community interventions shown to promote recovery and reduce the need for inpatient hospitalization for persons with behavioral health and substance use conditions.

I’m telling the policy makers how I feel and why. Let your legislators know what you think.

Join us in letting our policy makers know why this is so important to our families. On March 23, 2015, we will go to Olympia for the ‘Stand In Our Shoes’ Rally at 1 pm on the Flag Circle between the Washington State Supreme Court Building and the House of Representatives. Let your voice be heard! Register to attend at http://goo.gl/wwjcwB.

Through the month of February you can read our Blog for more information about King County mental health and substance abuse legislative priorities.