How Legalized Pot is Affecting Kids in Colorado

marijuana-leafI did something today I never thought I would. I visited a local pot shop. It was not what I expected. For some reason, I thought there would be a long brown counter with a couple of disreputable people standing behind it, maybe with a little scale and a cash box next to a selection of bongs. I guess I’m stuck in the 80’s. More on this trip later.

Why would a middle aged Mormon mother visit a pot shop?

Because we have legalized pot in Colorado now and apparently there are more pot shops than McDonald’s here. Yes. That is one of the facts I learned when I began researching this topic. I was shocked. (The pot shop I visited was next to a McDonald’s, which seems handy when you think about it.)

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I have been moderately irritated with the pot situation but hadn’t given it much thought beyond general disapproval for what it seems to have done to our housing market-prices are through the roof-and how it has increased our homeless problem, until I attended a business networking luncheon where the speaker filled us in on the situation, especially when it comes to the effect on our kids.

Diane Carlson of Smart Colorado, a nonprofit aimed at protecting kids from the effects of legalized pot, gave us an overview of some of the many problems the legalization of pot has brought to Colorado.

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Diane Carlson of Smart Colorado

For example:

 

Did you know Colorado has the dubious distinction of ranking first in the nation for recent youth pot use? And that Emergency Department rates likely related to marijuana increased 49 percent since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana.” –Smartcolorado.org

“A major study found that kids who start using marijuana before the age of 17 are 7x more likely to commit suicide than those that don’t”-Smartcolorado.org

“. . . youths who smoke marijuana on a daily basis are also 60% less likely to finish high school.”-Smartcolorado.org

“A new study to be presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting found that one in six infants and toddlers admitted to a Colorado hospital with coughing, wheezing and other symptoms of bronchiolitis tested positive for marijuana exposure.”-Smartcolorado.org

And why is this happening in the great state of Colorado? Well, one reason is that legalization has made access to kids that much easier. According to the Denver Post, 25 Denver schools are located closer than 1100 feet from recreational and medicinal pot shops. (Denver Post) The city established a 1000 feet buffer zone in 2010. Obviously, these shops have found a way around this regulation.

So a few things are going on. First of all, adults are smoking pot around their kids at home. That’s why kids are testing positive for marijuana exposure. Secondly, if you are 21, you may legally buy marijuana in Colorado now. This is making access to it that much easier. Remember how kids used to hang around liquor stores asking adults to buy beer for them? Now that happens with pot. Friends or dealers can easily buy pot and share it with or sell it to others.

Also, the stigma of pot use is diminishing. If you’re driving down the street and see a pot shop every few miles blatantly advertising, that is going to have an effect on the mindset of kids and teenagers when it comes to how they think about marijuana. When I was a teenager, it was illicit. Now it’s accepted.

“Walking down the hallway, it would be hard to find a kid who hasn’t smoked marijuana at least once.”-Smartcolorado.org

That is what one Boulder teenager told a legislative committee exploring the costs and benefits of legalized marijuana in Colorado. I think this speaks to the prevalence of pot use in the schools. I know kids were smoking pot when I was in school, but I also knew many kids who had never tried it. Partly because it was illegal and they didn’t want to get in trouble for buying it or being caught in possession of it. That’s not much of a barrier in Colorado anymore.

But our schools are getting so much money from the taxes on pot, right? (It’s always okay if it’s for the kids.)

As the Colorado Fiscal Institute explains in The Denver Post, pot taxes represent just a drop in the Colorado budget bucket.  And much of these funds go to fund marijuana education, treatment, regulation and enforcement programs. Most Colorado schools won’t get a penny.”-SmartColorado.org

“So far, the only thing that the legalization of marijuana has brought to our schools has been marijuana,” writes Dr. Harry Bull, Superintendent, Cherry Creek Schools.-SmartColorado.org

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An unofficial quote that Diane shared with us was that one high school principal said that pot was turning normal kids into knuckleheads. Obviously, pot has an effect on the brain. Smart Colorado cites a study on their website:

A University of Texas study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), shows a link between the age that a person starts to use marijuana and severity of the long-term effects on the brain. Youth marijuana users are more susceptible to suffering from a permanently underdeveloped orbital frontal cortex in the brain, the area that controls decision-making and addiction.”-SmartColorado.org

I think most of us who are children of the 60, 70s, and 80s think of pot as being fairly harmless. I did until a few years ago when I attended a meeting at a college I was working at in Southern California. A psychologist who worked at the school gave us a presentation and told us how much stronger pot is today than it was in the 60s. He used Snoop Dogg as an example. He knew Snoop Dogg and had up close experience with the rapper’s mental deficiencies, post pot usage.

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Snoop Dogg isn’t shy about his pot consumption.

Here are the key facts, again from Smart Colorado:

-Nationally, the potency of marijuana has more than tripled since the mid-1990s. (Yes, tripled!)

-Average potency of marijuana flowers/buds in Colorado is now 17.1% THC while the average potency for concentrates is 62.1%. Potency rates of up to 95% have been recorded.

 –After the Dutch observed negative impacts from rising THC potencies, a team of health experts concluded that THC potencies above 15% should be considered a hard drug.

-Colorado ranks 1st in the nation for youth (12+) use of marijuana.

– Research shows marijuana is harmful to the developing brains of adolescents, which may result in psychotic symptoms, schizophrenia, drug addiction and lower IQs.

If this is not enough to scare any parent, I don’t know what is. I don’t think there’s any question that legalization has contributed to the increased use of marijuana by our kids. So what the heck do we do about it? I, for one, would like to see Amendment 64 repealed. I think the whole idea of legalization is one big, fat mistake. But I think the likelihood of that happening is very slim. Too much money is being made by too many people.

Smart Colorado has listed their priorities as:

-Limit THC potencies until there is scientific evidence to prove highly potent pot does not pose unacceptable risks to public.

-Educate the public – especially youth – on dangers of marijuana and well-studied and documented negative impacts to the developing brain of lower-potency pot.

-Fund research to better understand the risks associated with such high concentrations of THC.

-Limit marijuana commercialization, advertising and marketing, which normalizes and promotes use among youth.

-Enforce laws restricting false health and benefit claims.

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Our Local Pot Shop

I agree with all of these strategies, especially educating the public. I think if more people, especially parents, know of the dangers of marijuana use in children and teens, the less willing they will be to accept legalization as a perfectly harmless extension of civil rights. They will also be armed with the facts when they talk to their kids about pot.

Part of getting myself educated included my visit to the local pot shop. I confess to being pretty apprehensive about the whole experience. It wasn’t until I was on my way there that I realized I was wearing my BYU-Idaho shirt. Not very incognito!

When I first walked in, I was stopped at the front of the store by a female security guard at a desk. She asked me for my driver’s license, which I gave her. She slid it through a machine of some kind, so I guess I am now on record with the state for having visited a pot shop. She then studied it carefully and handed it back to me.

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The Pillars of Pot

There were four pillars on each side of the store. Each one had an ipad on top which described the product and its benefits/attributes. Next to the ipads were little plastic containers with marijuana inside. When you lifted the lid, there were air holes so you could smell the product. I was a bit too nervous to spend much time reading the material though I did take a whiff at one of the stations.

In the back of the store was a display counter with a few edibles and literature about the different options. There were also pot-related greeting cards. I also noticed some cans in a cooler that looked kind of like energy shots. There were two employees at a counter at the back of the store. One greeted me. I quickly said ‘hi’ and then nonchalantly (or so I’d like to think) made my way out of the store. As I was leaving, a young man came in, handed over his ID and headed right back to the back counter. And no, I didn’t buy anything. I was curious to find out how purchases work, but I couldn’t bring myself to make one.

I urge anyone concerned about pot and kids to visit www.smartcolorado.org and educate yourselves. Also, talk to your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, fellow churchgoers, etc. Donate to Smart Colorado if you can. They are an entirely volunteer organization that is trying very hard to mitigate the harm in our community and they operate on a shoe string budget.

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