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Is marijuana harmless? Think again: Lessons from Colorado

On Jan. 1, Colorado opened its doors to this nation’s first legal sale of recreational marijuana. Lost in the buzz is the documented impact of legal marijuana on Colorado children.

The reality about today’s marijuana — an addictive substance whose average potency has dramatically increased from 3 percent in the 1990s to almost 15 percent — should change everything that people think they know about the drug. It affects the brain — especially in adolescents –impairing intelligence, reasoning, judgment and clarity of thought. Legalization means greater access and a lower perception of the drug’s risks by teens, leading more kids to use and hijacking their potential success in school and in life.

Instead of following Colorado’s lead, perhaps we need to cool our heels and watch carefully what’s happening. Having implemented medical marijuana in 2000, Colorado has 13 years of data we can examine.

Past 30-day use of marijuana by youngsters 12 to 17 is highest in medical marijuana states. In Denver, between 2004 and 2010, past 30-day users of marijuana ages 12 and up increased 4.3 percent while the increase for the nation was 0.05 percent. By 2010, past 30-day use for this age group was 12.2 percent compared to 6.6 percent for the country. One in six kids who start using marijuana becomes addicted.

On Dec. 19, Dr. Christian Thurstone, Colorado Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Society president and youth addiction researcher at the University of Colorado-Denver, observed that his clinic has been “inundated with young people reporting for marijuana-addiction treatment. Every day, we see the acute effects of the policy of legalization. And our kids are paying a great price.”

In Colorado’s schools, drug-related expulsions spiked 45 percent between 2008 and 2012. In a single academic year, a 10-year low in drug-related suspensions/expulsions flipped to a 10-year high. While the Colorado Department of Education includes all drugs in its data set, officials report that most drug-related suspensions since the 2008-2009 academic year related to marijuana.

Sadly for Colorado residents, marijuana-impaired drivers and fatalities are on the rise. While overall traffic fatalities decreased 16 percent between 2006 and 2011, during these same six years, traffic fatalities with drivers testing positive for just marijuana increased 114 percent.

What can Arizona learn from this? Lesson number one: we should not rush to experiment with an entire generation of our young people by legalizing marijuana. Use of marijuana by Arizona’s 8th, 10th and 12th graders has already increased by 14.4 percent from 2008 to 2012.

Lesson number two: We must build an environment in which every child can learn and thrive; that must include funding public education to heighten awareness about the harms of marijuana. Every child can succeed when adults believe in them and create safe communities for them. Marijuana is never part of that equation.

— Sheila Polk is Yavapai County attorney and co-chair of MATFORCE, the Yavapai County Substance Abuse Coalition.


  1. You are a venomous liar spreading the most dangerous of propaganda. please stop playing this dangerous game.

  2. This is all well and good but the problem is the parents, not the plant. If one looks at the history of cannabis prohibition, you will realize it was made illegal because industrial hemp was about to ruin the riches of the elites in the timber, oil, and financial industries. The psychoactive use of the plant was only a cover to sway the public mixed with some pretty racist reasonings as well since the prosecution of people who use the plant is overwhelmingly minorities. Remember that if you are a prohibitionist you will find yourself in the company of the KKK historically and in the company of the drug cartels who benefit from illegality as a profit motive. End the violence and taboo so that addicts can get help.

  3. Must be all those twelve year olds that are suspended from school driving around causing those fatalities eh?

  4. “Legalization means greater access”? Presumably, you intend to imply that it will be more accessible to children. Did you think this through?
    Marijuana is widely available, almost everywhere in the U.S. and has been for decades. Previously it was only available from illicit dealers who did not check age. Legalization shifts the market away from that sort to regulated outlets that must verify age. Obviously this equates to less access by those under 21, not more. If this is unclear to you because you’re less verbally- and more visually-oriented, have a 3rd-grader draw you a ‘this is more, this is less’ picture.

  5. Yeab. This artical is half lie and half pointless info.its more potant? Hello? You cant over dose. Marijua has medical benifits and higher potancy means less smoke is needee to get the desired effect. Higher potancy is healthier. Addiction and abuse? Its less addictive than chocolate and its safer to abuse marijuana than red bull. Stop trying to kill society with your lies. Get it together

  6. So your saying that we should support cartels across the border instead of using the tax money from legalized marijuana. Imagine the impact to cartels if we made marijuana legal in AZ.

  7. Your article is full of completely fabricated lies, and half truths at best. Do you think your readers are not not smart enough to do a little research into your “facts”? Keep spreading your lies Sheila Polk, I’m pretty sure your days are numbered as the county attorney in Yavapai, thank goodness.

  8. Typical of marijuana zealots, I see a bunch of accusations regarding the writer lying, yet see no substance, links, reports, or counter-proofs to support their argument.
    “I lurves gettin’ high! And anyone who won’t let me get high is from the Devil! Cuz I says so!”
    Show your stats, have an argument or quit being a troll.

  9. “Past 30-day use of marijuana by youngsters 12 to 17 is highest in medical marijuana states. In Denver, between 2004 and 2010, past 30-day users of marijuana ages 12 and up increased 4.3 percent while the increase for the nation was 0.05 percent. By 2010, past 30-day use for this age group was 12.2 percent compared to 6.6 percent for the country. One in six kids who start using marijuana becomes addicted.”

    sadly, this article is very misleading and wrong in it’s claims.

    Reality: This is false. In 2012, two years after Prop. 203 passed, the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission published a report that shows marijuana use among teens in Arizona has decreased. The report shows a slight increase among 10th and 12th graders; however, a large amount of use among eighth graders dropped the overall average in the state.

    According to data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System report, compiled by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, use among teens in Colorado has decreased as well, from 24.85 percent to 22 percent, putting it below the national average.

    The claim that legalization makes it more accessible to teens is a farce as well. It is much harder for kids to get alcohol due to regulation, then it has ever been to get marijuana. The claim of “addiction rate” among teens is false as well. This is playing with numbers. According to the government funded study by the Institute of medicine, Cannabis falls within caffeine the addiction index, and while it can be behaviorally addicting, just like video games or many or gambling, it is little man on the totem pull for physical addiction with minim to no withdrawal effects once stopped.

    The reason that the claim of teenage addiction rate is false, is due to the fact that anytime a kid is put through the system, and is diverted to a court ordered rehab program, i.e. busted for possession, they are enrolled and listed as an “addict” regardless of being truly an “addict” or not. These are not cases of kids being checked in through medical facilities or walking in themselves or with family. The numbers are greatly from court mandated entries, and provides a false claim to “addiction” rates. Just because someone is busted with possession and using marijuana, and is mandated to go to addiction counseling via the courts as part of their deal, does not mean they are truly an “addict” and does nothing more then to provide false labels and inflate a perception of increased addiction rates.

    This is just like the Obama administration making claim that people who simply had a plan in their shopping cart, but did not buy were “enrolled”….when in reality they were not. This is a misrepresentation of the facts and numbers.

    Read more: http://azcapitoltimes.com/news/2013/07/15/arizona-medical-marijuana-program-a-product-of-lies/#ixzz2qePsSRAM

  10. That minors are able to get their hands on a substance is no reason, in itself, to make that substance illegal for adults to use and to throw (some) in jail and ruin their lives over it. If you don’t want minors to get it then figure out what policies best deter them from it and, hint, one of them is probably not going to be leaving it to the black market to decide.

    Furthermore, if MJ were really the menace to public health that it’s detractors claim it is, it would not be de facto legal in affluent white communities, would it?

  11. Your points on the detrimental effects of marajuana are absolutely correct. Multiple scientific studies have shown that several vital pleasure receptor areas in the brain which resond to drugs—all drugs—-can be permanently affected when exposed to drugs before they have completed development. Generally around 19 years old in females and 21 years old in males.
    There have been many studies showing these changes on Pet Scans of the brains of individuals exposed at a young age. Again, these comments go for all drugs affecting these brain areas.
    An invividual who begins alcohol consumption in their early teens are destined for an adult life plagued with alcohol dependence, start consuming alcohol at say 25 years old..much less likely to happen. Same story with prescription drugs–the current plague consuming many youth.
    The simple fact is “Big Marajuana” wants this pushed thru without adequate scientific data because they already know what those studies would show.

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