updated 10/29/2010 9:15:48 AM ET 2010-10-29T13:15:48

ATLANTA, Oct. 29, 2010 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Whether or not Californians approve Proposition 19 on November 2, the proposition is the first of many to legalize marijuana for recreational use and turn it into an unregulated commercial enterprise.

The marijuana legalization initiatives prompted National Families in Action to launch But What About the Children?  - a campaign delineating provisions that must be included in any law that legalizes marijuana. The mission of But What About the Children? is to hold a legalized marijuana industry accountable for ensuring that children will not have access to the drug. The campaign suggests that any marijuana legalization law should incorporate what medical science has learned about alcohol and tobacco use to prevent marijuana use and addiction among children.

If Prop 19 fails, proponents are planning similar 2012 ballot initiatives in California and other Western states. Rep. Barney Frank has introduced the first federal legalization bill (HR 2943) in Congress. Rep. Frank's bill is two sentences long, and contains no provisions for how legal marijuana will be regulated, taxed or sold. No pediatric, medical, prevention, treatment, or policy experts have participated in crafting proposed legalization laws.  

National Families in Action (NFIA) is a nonprofit organization that has worked for 33 years to help parents keep their children healthy and drug-free. The organization is opposed to legalization of marijuana. However, its leaders recognize that if Americans vote to legalize the drug, the country needs clear thinking about long-term implications of legalizing marijuana and the regulatory mechanisms needed to protect children.  

"Citizens are voting on laws that don't define crucial questions, such as how taxes on legal marijuana will be used," said Sue Rusche, president and CEO of National Families in Action. "Will marijuana be advertised and promoted, and if so, how do we keep children from becoming a target audience of a legalized marijuana industry? How do we protect children from secondhand marijuana smoke? How do we protect them from traffic accidents caused by impaired drivers? How do we identify marijuana-impaired drivers?"

To develop But What About the Children?, NFIA brought together some of the world's most learned, experienced and thoughtful experts on alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

NFIA posed the following question to the experts :  "Knowing the impact alcohol and tobacco have had on public health, and if you could have written the tobacco control bill 150 years ago or the 1933 law repealing Prohibition, what provisions to protect children would you have included?" 

The discussions led to 12 provisions that must be in any law that legalizes marijuana.  They include:

  • A fund to be financed by the marijuana industry so that taxpayers won't have to foot the bill for the damage marijuana will do. 

The fund also will support research to track children's use; determine short-term and long-term health consequences of marijuana use on children; learn how second-hand marijuana smoke affects them; determine if use is a gateway to other harmful drugs; determine effects of use on driving; and many other problems marijuana will pose for children. 

The fund will pay for prevention efforts and treatment for those who become addicted. 

  • A penalty fee for every underage user and, if that fails, automatic repeal of legalization if underage use exceeds certain levels. 

"Legalization is being driven by the fortunes to be made from legalized marijuana, and no one is thinking about the health and safety of children," said William Carter, chairman of the board of National Families in Action. "Whether it's tobacco, alcohol or marijuana, the industries know the science:  the younger children are when they start using the substance, the more likely they'll become addicted - and lifetime customers." 

If marijuana is legalized, But What About the Children? is designed to keep American children from becoming deadly statistics of the future. Tobacco killed 100 million people worldwide in the 20th century and kills more than 400,000 Americans every year. It took 150 years before Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Law of 2009, which, among other safeguards, places tobacco under the control of the FDA.   Alcohol abuse kills 85,000 Americans each year. Merely to maintain sales at current levels, both the tobacco and alcohol industries must add new customers to replace those who die from using their products. But What About the Children? aims to make sure that children don't become those new customers.

Alcohol use by California's children today may predict their marijuana use tomorrow if the state legalizes marijuana. The latest California Healthy Kids Survey reports that almost four times more California seventh graders (31 percent) started drinking alcohol than started using marijuana (8 percent) by age 14. Six times more seventh graders (13 percent) started drinking alcohol in childhood - aged 10 or younger - as compared to marijuana initiators (2 percent). If marijuana is legalized, similar results can be expected in children.

"We allowed alcohol and tobacco to be sold for too many years without effective regulation, and we've paid a terrible price in terms of early use, addiction, and all of those deaths," said Rusche. "If policy makers decide to legalize a third addictive drug, it's imperative that we use our 150 years of knowledge and experience to protect our children from becoming the target market of the marijuana industry."

The National Families in Action logo is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/newsroom/prs/?pkgid=8232

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