CONTACT Legal marijuana's impact on CO troubling - Dr. Christian Thurstone

Marijuana-related problems of public health and safety are worsening in Colorado, according to a new federal report released today by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or HIDTA.

The agency is part of a national network of federal offices charged with providing assistance to federal, state and tribal law enforcement agencies in areas determined to be critical drug-trafficking regions of the United States.

The third annual report packs a lot of information into its 169 pages, which are divided into 11 sections examining an array of issues, including rates of driving while under the influence and marijuana-related traffic fatalities (both of which are up significantly), workplace drug testing results (more positive THC rates in Colorado workers), and more marijuana-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

Given this site’s special focus on child and adolescent health (which extends to age 25, when the brain reaches full maturity), we note the following findings from the report:

In 2013, 11.16 percent of Colorado youth ages 12 to 17 years old were considered current marijuana users compared to 7.15 percent nationally. Colorado ranked third in the nation and was 56 percent higher than the national average.

Drug-related suspensions/expulsions increased 40 percent from school years 2008/2009 to 2013/2014. The vast majority were for marijuana violations.

Since 2013, there has been a 20 percent increase in the percent of probationers ages 12-17 who tested positive for marijuana. The rate jumped 49 percent for probationers ages 18 to 25, and it increased 87 percent for probationers ages 26 and older.

In 2013, 29 percent of college-age students (ages 18 to 25 years old) were considered current marijuana users compared to 18.91 percent nationally. In Colorado, the marijuana use rate of this demographic ranked second in the nation — and 54 percent higher than the national average.Between pre- and post-commercialization of medical marijuana, there was a 17 percent increase in monthly marijuana use by this demographic. There was an 11 percent increase in just one year, from 2013 to 2014.

Children’s Hospital Colorado reported two marijuana ingestions among children under 12 in 2009 compared to 16 in 2014.

Marijuana-related exposures in Colorado children up to age 5 averaged 31 in 2013-14 — an increase of 138 percent from the commercialization of so-called “medical” marijuana years of 2009-12 and a 225 percent increase from the pre-commercialization years of 2006-2008.

Urban Peak, which provides an array of social services to youth ages 15 to 25, reported a 152 percent increase at its drop-in center in just one year. Kim Easton, director of the Denver-based organization, said about one-third of the newcomers — nearly all of whom are homeless — cite legal marijuana as a factor for their move to Colorado.

Toxicology reports show that marijuana is the most common substance found in Colorado adolescents who commit suicide. Of youth 10-19 years old who committed suicide, marijuana is the only substance found at a higher rate than adults ages 20 and older who committed suicide.

THC potency has risen from a national average of 3.96 percent in 1995 to an average of 12.55 percent in 2013. The average THC potency of marijuana in Colorado was 17.1 percent. The drug’s potency is especially problematic for adolescents who are in critical stages of brain development and risk permanent IQ loss.

Children of parents who have used marijuana are three times more likely to use the drug, according to a national survey of 1,051 people ages 18 to 25 conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s Center for Public Advocacy. The survey found that 72 percent of children who reported their parents have used, or are using, marijuana also have used the drug. That compares to less than 20 percent of children whose parents have not used marijuana. About 15 percent of survey respondents said they first used the drug before the age of 14, while another 35 percent reported first use between the ages of 14 and 16.
The survey also found that the majority of young adult marijuana users (6 out of 10) believed marijuana was not addictive and that it does not damage the brain. Almost half of respondents said eating marijuana is safer than smoking it.
In Colorado, close to 49 percent of youth surveyed admitted they had used marijuana, compared to approximately 41 percent nationwide. In Colorado, 24 percent of youth said they used marijuana daily, compared to about 19 percent for the rest of the country.

The report includes findings from surveys of resource officers and counselors working in Colorado schools. These are their comments:

Halls Reek of Pot After Lunch

  • “Many kids come back from lunch highly intoxicated from marijuana use. Halls reek of pot, so many kids are high that it is impossible to apprehend all but the most impaired.”
  • “They go off campus and smoke during lunch with friends. They will run home with friends during lunch and smoke then.”
  • “There have been several instances of students in their cars on lunch or during their off hours ‘hotboxing’ or smoking marijuana. Most students are seniors but on occasion, seniors will provide marijuana to 9th or 10th grade students.”
  • “2014/2015 school year, several students caught coming back from off-campus lunch under the influence of marijuana.”
    “More and more students are coming back to school high after lunch.”
  • Arrives at School Stoned

  • “At the beginning of the second semester, three middle school boys were routinely arriving late at school, and noticeable intoxicated.”
  • “We have middle school students who either come to school high, or have it on them in a bag. Or they have pipes on them.”
  • “Teaching a lesson in class during first period that started 7:30 AM and two students were already high in class.”
  • “12 yr. old, sixth grader, was suspected of coming to summer school high. When confronted he told the teacher that he smoked it at home the night before but denied being high at the time. Later, he confirmed that he had smoked early that morning. The marijuana came from his mother’s stash.”
  • New Use of Bathrooms:

  • “Students using in the bathroom.”
  • “2 students were smoking marijuana in the restroom last year.”
  • “8th grade male student had marijuana in his locker, classmates reported it. 8th grade female student smoked a joint in a school bathroom during school hours. Shared it with a friend.”
  • “7th grade girl last year had hidden marijuana and a pipe in the girl’s restroom and told several friends who began getting bathroom break passes from various classrooms.
  • It’s Legal:

  • “3 or 4 times in the last school year, students have come to school under the influence after meeting at homes where parents were absent, sharing marijuana off campus and then bringing it on campus. 7th and 8th grade students have been involved, and most often their reaction when caught is ‘it’s legal’.”
  • “I met with at least 5 students last year alone that have been showing significant signs of drug use or were caught and they all said they will not stop using weed on a daily basis. Their justification was it’s fine because it’s legal. If it’s legal it’s not as bad as what adults say about the risks.”
  • Just a Plant:

  • “In March of 2015 a fifth grade boy offered marijuana to another fifth grader on the playground. In October of 2014 a kindergarten girl described the pipe in her grandmother’s car and the store where you go to buy pipes. In May of 2015 a first grade girl reported that her mom smokes weed in the garage. ‘It’s not a drug, it’s just a plant.’”
  • Grades Decline:

  • “Last year I had two very intelligent students (above 4.0) that used marijuana 2-6 times a week. Both of them had grades decline and significant social emotional issues spike in the Spring of their Senior Year. They also both had violations at school.”
  • Dad Allows Pot Smoking:

  • “We had reports of two students (brothers) appear to be high at school. Our officer assessed both of them and discovered that their father, who had a medical marijuana card, was having them both ‘smoke a bowl’ before school. He thought it would make their school day easier.”
  • Difficulty in Assessment:

  • “For school personnel, it is more difficult to evaluate what substance a student is under the influence of. We can smell alcohol and smoked marijuana but the edibles and vapes are hard to detect.”
  • For much more information, please see the full report.

    About Christine Tatum

    Christine Tatum is a veteran journalist whose communications and market intel firm, Media Salad, Inc., helps companies and nonprofit organizations win business and stay ahead of their competitors. Her professional stops include the Chicago Tribune, The Denver Post, the (Arlington Heights, Ill.) Daily Herald and the (Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record. Her work also has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, and New York Times.

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