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Ever since the passing of Amendment 64 in 2012 and the legalization of recreational marijuana, Colorado has been feeling the changes. Where marijuana was previously an illegal drug, often consumed in clandestine circles, it is now everywhere.  Advertisements are printed in weekly publications, dispensaries are numerous and plainly visible, and tourists are traveling to the state to consume it on the ski hills. Often touted as a “non-addictive” and harmless substance, the THC in Colorado is proving to be a challenge for some, particularly school officials, teachers, and teens

For many in the state, publicly funded schools, the legal sale of marijuana sounded at first like a reasonable tradeoff; all marijuana sales include an excise tax that collects money earmarked for school construction projects. In 2014, that tax brought in a mere $13.3 million and the numbers were modestly climbing in 2015. (1) While this money may be helpful in funding new facilities, many say the legalization has created more problems than solutions for Colorado school systems.

“There’s a shift in culture,” said Jeff Whitmore, director of transportation for Bayfield School District in southwestern Colorado. “Kids see their parents smoking it and see it marketed everywhere, and they think it’s normal and OK for them to do.” (2) In addition, the use of the word “recreation” may be sending mixed messages: Odette Edbrooke, health education coordinator for the Boulder Valley School District says, “Recreational implies it’s fun, and it’s something you do in your spare time.” (6)

While the legal minimum age of sale and consumption in Colorado is 21+, many younger adults and teens have no trouble securing the drug. An increase in baked goods, candies, and even lip gloss made with THC make it easy for students to consume the psychoactive substance at school. When ingesting THC, the telltale signs of scent or red eyes are generally absent, making it difficult for school officials to confirm if a student is high or not. This proves to be detrimental in many ways: students under the influence of marijuana generally struggle to engage, they don’t learn or retain information as well, their academics slip, and many set themselves up for cycles of use and abuse that lead to long-term trouble down the road.  For many, marijuana use tends to be a daily activity and for a young person, this use can result in academic failure as well as permanent alterations to their physical brain structure and chemistry. (3

For many young people, the marijuana risk-versus-reward equation in Colorado right now tends to favor use. Unless they are receiving consistent and frequent messages from peers, adults, and people they respect encouraging abstinence, many will experiment, use, and potentially abuse the substance. Jill Doty, a school counselor at Thompson School District in Colorado, has seen the effects first hand. In a piece urging the State of Ohio to prevent the legalization of marijuana, she writes: “Do they [individuals in the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry] realize what it is like to talk with a mother who spends every waking moment trying to encourage her son to finish high school? I never would have guessed this student, who started smoking marijuana during high school, would not be on the stage for graduation.” (4)

We all want the best for ourselves and the young people we love. While some argue that as adults we have a right to use substances such as alcohol and marijuana as we see fit, we also have a responsibility to educate and protect young people. More and more research is proving that the human brain is still quite malleable and changing until the age of 25. The use of marijuana prior to the brain being fully developed can alter the final structure and result in memory and problem-solving issues, as well as wire it for a lifetime of unhealthy reward seeking (5). If you or a young person you care about is using marijuana, don’t minimize it. Show your respect by educating yourself and your loved one, seek support and start a conversation. Looking for substance abuse treatment for teens in Denver, CO? Contact Us

Further Reading/Resources:

  1. Colorado Tax
  2. How Does Marijuana Affect Your Brain and Body? 
  3. A School Counselor’s Story 
  4. Marijuana May Hurt the Developing Teen Brain
  5. Illegal to Recreational in Schools

About Sandstone Care

Sandstone Care is a Denver, Colorado-based treatment program for young adults and adolescents struggling with substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. Sandstone Care offers a full continuum of outpatient care including Extended Care, Day Treatment, Intensive Outpatient, and General Outpatient Programs for young adults (ages 18-30) and adolescents (ages 13-18). Sandstone Care believes that successful outcomes are achieved through a systemic, evidence-based approach that addresses the entire individual as well as their environment – this means providing academic & vocational support to help individuals achieve their goals and discover their strengths, family participation to educate and support the entire family system, psychiatric and dietitian evaluations and support to promote a healthy mind and body, as well as community-based activities along with the more traditional evidence-based group and individual therapy. If you or a loved one needs additional support, call our confidential line, at 888-850-1890 or fill out the form on our website, and our admissions team will be able to answer any questions as well as guide you and your loved ones toward the path of long-lasting recovery. For more information, visit