Chula Vista Police outside dispensary
Chula Vista police outside an illegal marijuana dispensary in 2019. Courtesy CVPD

Ask us what we want to be when we grow up. We’ll tell you we imagine ourselves becoming doctors, teachers, firefighters, chefs, engineers, or attorneys. 

Some of us are born entrepreneurs. We dream of opening our own businesses or nonprofit organizations.

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Some of us are even more ambitious: We dream of becoming the President of the United States.

None of the kids we know dream of becoming budtenders.

But that’s not the message cannabis industry lobbyists are telling our local elected representatives. To hear them and their allies speak, you’d think they were giving voice to our hopes and dreams for the future.

We’d like to set the record straight: The kids we know have higher aspirations for ourselves and one another. 

That’s because we see recreational cannabis for what it is: an industry that takes advantage of people’s despair and insecurities and thrives on addiction

The cannabis industry is not our friend.

You see, we’re teenagers who grew up right alongside San Diego’s cannabis industry.  Over the past decade, we’ve watched it change our neighborhoods from the inside out. For the most part, the change has not been for the better.

Take for example the industry’s intimidating presence in residential neighborhoods and small business corridors south of Interstate 8.

Billboards, sign spinners and party buses plastered with marijuana advertisements are everywhere, posted near community parks, schools, churches, family health clinics, and libraries. They grab our attention as we walk and bike through our neighborhoods. Many of these ads are illegal.

But most industry actors don’t seem to care, since state and local laws designed to protect kids and families from marijuana advertisements often are not enforced.

The ads scream for attention, projected in eye-popping colors like bright pink, yellow, green, and blue. Many feature young women and people of color. All of them promote marijuana as a fun, hip, and healthy lifestyle choice — something the cool, popular people enjoy. 

What the ads don’t tell San Diegans is the dark side of marijuana: It’s addictive. It’s harmful. And it’s changing what it means to call San Diego our home. 

Five to ten years from now, when we’ve graduated and are ready to enter the workforce, what will San Diego’s economy look like? Will it still be a city powered by science, tourism, and technology?

Or will San Diego be known as a party town, where marijuana is as common as craft beer, and people can live in a world that exists only when they’re high?

What about the rest of us, who live in the real world?

Is San Diego a region whose leaders value cannabis industry tax revenue more than creating the meaningful jobs of the future? Will it be a place where we can find rewarding careers, raise our families, and live in healthy and safe communities? 

Will San Diego be a place we’ll be proud to call our home?

These are questions we expect our elected officials to consider carefully before allowing the cannabis industry to expand its footprint in communities throughout San Diego County. 

In the meantime, we invite our elected representatives to speak to us directly about our hopes and dreams for the future, instead of empowering the cannabis industry to define what the future holds for us. 

We’re the voters of tomorrow. We’re listening and we’re watching.

This article was written by teen members of Advocates for Change Today, a coalition committed to promoting substance abuse prevention in central San Diego, and Project A.W.A.R.E. a mentoring program for teens and young adults.