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World Watches as Colo. Marijuana Law Takes Effect

From Medicinal to Recreational

Colorado has long been one of the most tolerant states when it comes to cannabis. Voters in 2000 approved marijuana for medical use. Before 2012, penalties for small-scale possession were similar to a traffic citation.

Banking on the changing attitudes -- the presence across the state of neighborhood shops that sold medical marijuana had resulted in little crime and much-needed tax revenue for cities -- pot supporters sponsored a measure to make recreational marijuana legal, called Amendment 64. It allows anyone 21 or over to possess up to an ounce of pot, and it went into effect in December 2012.

It also created a framework for state-licensed stores to sell marijuana and marijuana products, such as brownies.

In the 14 months since the vote, much of the effort by state and local officials has been to limit the potential public health hazards of legal pot.

Schools and Kids

Amendment 64 was sold to voters as a way to regulate and tax what had long been a black market. The first $40 million in state excise tax revenue will go to school construction and the rest to pot regulation.

But some worry legal pot will hurt schools and the kids who learn. During the 2012 election, the Colorado Education Association, the state’s teachers union, was one of the main opponents to Amendment 64.

“The more access there is to marijuana, the more probability there is that students will be using at higher levels,” wrote association Vice President Amie Baca-Oehlert during the campaign.   “We want to cut off access and have our students find other ways to cope with things that are going in their lives."

The National Institute on Drug Abuse released a report in December that found rising marijuana use among high school students. Sixty percent of 12th graders viewed marijuana use as not harmful.

Colorado schools have begun to separate marijuana from other drugs to better track legal pot’s influence on schools going forward. The Denver Post reported in November that marijuana was the reason behind 32% of the 720 expulsions in Colorado schools in 2012-2013, the first year it was tracked.

Schools have long taught students about marijuana. The state has a program called “Speak Now Colorado” that encourages parents to talk to their kids. Christine R. Harms, director of the Colorado School Safety Resource Center, believes it’s up to the parents.

“We will really tell parents to consider how very detrimental marijuana is to the adolescent brain and to keep it away from kids,” Harms says.

But Elliott says banning has failed to keep pot out of schools, because drug dealers have no motivation to keep pot out. He said the marijuana industry does.

“A responsible-use campaign is critical to this. Obviously if teen marijuana use goes up, there are going to be a lot of people questioning the wisdom of this (legalization) policy,” he says.

State officials plan to do sting operations at pot stores to discourage sales to minors.

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