Public Marijuana Bans Guarantee Child Marijuana Smoke Exposure

Smoking Baby

A recent study concluded that children who are exposed to adults smoking marijuana indoors will test positive for trace amounts of marijuana metabolites. According to the story on NPR:

It’s a small study, involving 43 young children in Colorado, another state where recreational marijuana use is legal. The children, ages 1 month to 2 years, were hospitalized for bronchiolitis. Their urine samples were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which used a new and highly sensitive test that can detect very low levels of marijuana metabolites. They found 16 percent of the overall samples tested positive. And for the children whose caregivers said they had been exposed to marijuana use, 75 percent had traces of marijuana in their urine.

OK, there are enough holes in this study to declare it Swiss cheese. First, this is a terribly small sample size – just 43 kids. Second, it’s not a random sample, but kids who are already experiencing lung function issues. Third, marijuana metabolites don’t indicate any sort of impairment in the children. Fourth, we’re still talking about only one-in-six of the kids turning up with any metabolites at all. And fifth, we are talking about incredibly low levels of metabolites:

This method has limits of detection (LOD) of 0.005, 0.015 and 0.009 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) for the three metabolites tested: total urinary THC, COOH-THC, and CBD, respectively.

For comparison’s sake, there are states that currently have DUID laws on the books for active marijuana or its inactive metabolites.

  • In Washington and Colorado, their 5ng/mL limit is 1,000 times greater for active THC than the 0.005 nanograms this test can detect.
  • In Georgia (and 17 other states), there is a zero-tolerance DUID law in effect. Detection of any amount of metabolite (COOH-THC) in Georgia leads to a mandatory 24-hours jail term. Their tests generally can detect metabolites only down to 50ng/mL, or 3,333 times greater than what the CDC’s test can detect.
  • The nation’s drug courts are testing at thresholds of 100ng/mL, 50ng/mL, and 20ng/mL. Those are the levels various states use in evaluating marijuana use by people ordered not to use it. Their fact sheet explains that “eight out of ten chronic subjects tested below the 50 ng/mL cutoff after an average of only 13 days (range 5-19 days). So how little is the effect of marijuana smoke exposure to kids at a mere 0.015ng/mL?

This is yet another example of detection of marijuana being demonized without any follow-up data to show the marijuana is causing any problems. That doesn’t stop the NPR story and the researchers from making up alleged marijuana harms out of whole cloth:

“Our hypothesis is that it is not good for kids,” Wilson says. “We strongly believe that once we do the research to document secondhand marijuana exposure that we will see there is a negative effect on children. … There is no reason to believe that it is any safer than tobacco smoke exposure…”

Don’t you think that if there were any significant long-term pulmonary or other health effects to befall the children exposed to copious amounts of second-hand marijuana smoke, we’d see that in statistics concerning the kids of Rastafarians? Wouldn’t there be some sort of problem with one of Bob Marley’s 12 kids, Willie Nelson’s 7 kids, or Tommy Chong’s 6 kids?

Prohibitionists and some public health wonks so desperately want to find this alleged danger of secondhand marijuana smoke. But when the evidence shows that firsthand marijuana smoke delivers few of the harms associated with tobacco smoking, and may even protect the lungs from cancer…

…habitual use of marijuana alone does not appear to lead to significant abnormalities in lung function… no clear link to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease has been established… studies do not suggest an increased risk for the development of either lung or upper airway cancer… In summary, the accumulated weight of evidence implies far lower risks for pulmonary complications of even regular heavy use of marijuana compared with the grave pulmonary consequences of tobacco.

“We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use,” [Dr. Tashkin] said. “What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.”

…then how are we supposed to believe that inhaling and then exhaling that smoke suddenly turns it into this terribly harmful gas?

Still, I’m willing to concede that you shouldn’t hot box the room your kids are in with marijuana smoke. Perhaps once our lungs remove the THC from the smoke, what we exhale is a more harmful thing to breathe (though I won’t concede it being more harmful than secondhand tobacco smoke). Though it would take a very small, unventilated room and a whole bunch of weed smoking, it is theoretically possible a kid could even get a little high from secondhand marijuana smoke.

So, that brings us to the point: where are these marijuana-smoking parents supposed to go to smoke away from their kids?

The laws in the currently-legal states ban the public use of marijuana. If the parent lives in a multi-unit housing, they can’t just step outside to smoke their joint without risking a fine; they have to smoke in the house. If they take their kid with them to run errands, the mall or the downtown area they’re shopping from doesn’t provide any sort of outdoor location designated for marijuana smoking; they have to smoke in the car in the parking lot. If the parent wants to socialize with other pot-smoking-parent friends, they can’t hire a babysitter and then congregate at the marijuana lounge; they have to gather at one of their houses and smoke indoors.

The fear I have is that courts will begin to punish the parents of children who are exposed to secondhand marijuana smoke, prodded by family law attorneys who’ve successfully infringed on parental rights on the issue of secondhand tobacco smoke. It’s just another way to discriminate against parents who smoke marijuana, even though no proven harm to their children can be shown from it.

Russ Belville
About Russ Belville 199 Articles
Russ Belville - or "Radical" Russ, as he is known on-air - hosts The Marijuana Agenda, a live news and talk radio program for the cannabis community, weekdays at 3pm Pacific on  The show is based in Portland, Oregon, but "Radical" Russ has traveled over 300,000 air miles in the past five years, bringing his show to report live from hundreds of cannabis conferences, marijuana expos, hemp festivals, and legalization events in over 70 North American cities.