Hot Topic: Marijuana in Colorado- Should it be Legalized as a Drug?

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By Donna Schwartz; Community Clinician for Valley Hope in Colorado
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There is a lot of information moving around the state right now about legalizing marijuana in Colorado; we would be the first state to legalize it if the election in November passes Amendment 64.  There are many voices around this issue; yours may be one of them.

From the world of working in substance abuse treatment, one that is 12 Step Based, I have some concerns that lean toward not legalizing the drug.  I just attended a workshop today with national experts on marijuana presenting on the concerns and trends that are being seen with marijuana use.   I believe passing this law could create many problems for us as a culture.  Just some things I learned and want to share about marijuana use/abuse:

Study participants from two adolescent substance abuse treatment programs in the Denver metropolitan area were asked questions about their medical marijuana use.   It was found that 121 of 164 adolescents (73.8%) reported using medical marijuana that had been recommended for someone else, also known as diverted medical ... This study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA-011015) with additional support provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism T32AA007464 and DA-021913.

Studies also show that ‘pot’ affects brain development, impairs learning ability and contributes to depression in adolescents and young adults.  Marijuana abuse accounts for 67% of the adolescents in substance abuse treatment programs in the United States.  According to the coalition against Amendment 64, suspensions for drug violations in Colorado public schools increased 45% over the past four years; expulsions for drug violations increased 35% and referrals to police increased 17%.  Ages 12-25 are the most vulnerable.  It is shown that smoking pot regularly reduces coordination and impairs decision making.  It is also shown that using this in the teen years affects stages of brain growth and development that make teens susceptible to addiction.

Something shared today caught everyone’s attention in the room.  What most people don’t understand is that marijuana used today has a much greater potency than years ago.  Parents of teens today may have used pot in their teens, remembering the impact had very little effect on them.  If a parent is comparing the effect pot had in their lives as a teen and young adult, to today’s manufacturing of pot, it is not comparable. 

Whatever your views, it is helpful to realize that marijuana is a mood altering chemical.  The purpose in using it is to ‘alter’ mood; get high/stoned for most people.  There are some people who use this medically; as a way of surviving a life-threatening illness and the horrible side effects such as cancer, MS or HIV.  I, in no way, am against people using marijuana for these medical concerns; especially when other medical means don’t seem to ease the discomfort or pain.  I am more skeptical with people saying they have a medical marijuana card due to a sore throat, head ache, exhaustion, or a back ache as a way of managing their lives.  Interesting times for Colorado right now; we shall see where this all turns in the November elections.  Please share your thoughts!

Donna Schwartz/donnas@valleyhope.com

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