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DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado voters chose to legalize marijuana for adults, but now experts are split on how a social acceptance of pot is affecting Colorado’s children.
Recreational marijuana is still illegal in Colorado for people under 21 years old. Marijuana opponents say legalization is like opening up Pandora’s Box for children.
CBS4’s Jennifer Brice spoke with students outside of a Denver area high school and had candid conversations with teenagers about marijuana. A 17-year-old senior told Brice, “The amount of people that I see high all the time is astronomical.” She said four of her friends have died from drug overdoses.
“They started out with marijuana and smoking cigarettes and it led to heroin and other drugs,” the student said.
The Drug Enforcement Agency still considers marijuana the number one gateway drug.
Another student, who admits to smoking marijuana frequently, said she smokes after school.
“I go home and don’t do anything. I don’t do my homework,” she said.
A male student told Brice he doesn’t believe marijuana is dangerous.
“I’m still in high school. I don’t think there are long-term effects,” he said.
Researchers at Duke University concluded that teenage marijuana use is dangerous. A recent study found an 8 percent IQ drop in pot smokers under the age of 18 (today.duke.edu/2012/08/potiq).
The same young man told Brice using marijuana is easier to hide from his parents than ever before because you don’t have to come home smelling like smoke.
“If you want to be sneaky, you’d eat an edible,” he said.
Dispensaries now sell pot infused popcorn, cotton candy, cookies, brownies and suckers. At times, those edibles are getting into the wrong hands. The Children’s Hospital says more children under the age of five are ending up in the emergency room because of marijuana, a trend they expect to increase.
At the same time, marijuana supporters point to a study that says teen pot usage is actually on the decline since medical marijuana was introduced in Colorado.
“We actually saw teen marijuana use go down in the state of Colorado, where it went up nationally in a tightly regulated medical marijuana environment,” said Kayvan Khalatbari, co-owner of Denver Relief Dispensary.
He’s citing a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says marijuana usage in Colorado teenagers went down by 2.8 percent from 2009 to 2011 (cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/index.htm).
Police say that’s not what they are seeing.
“Were just seeing so many problems with it that it couldn’t possibly be on the decrease,” Sgt. Jim Gerhardt of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association said. “We’re seeing so many kids using it.”
Gerhardt says he’s catching children bringing marijuana to elementary and middle schools.
“It’s a really scary thing for any parent right now to realize how available marijuana is and how acceptable it has become,” he said.
Like it or not, parents says it’s time to talk to children about marijuana. Holding his young daughter, Dierk Eichoff said, “It’s up to us to teach her there are certain things, even if it’s legal, it’s not the smartest thing to do.”