Colorado’s approach to marijuana has undergone a radical transformation in recent years, and state lawmakers continue to adapt laws to deal with the social and regulatory challenges of this new frontier. So it’s important for parents to keep up with the rules, as they guide and support their children to live healthy, successful lives.
Thankfully, many of the early concerns over legal marijuana’s effects on Summit County communities haven’t materialized, thanks to the efforts of a broad coalition of local and state government agencies, businesses and nonprofit organizations.
“We anticipated an increase in open consumption and worked hard to educate the community and guests regarding the rules,” said Shannon Haynes, Assistant Town Manager in Breckenridge. “In the end, we did not see the drastic increase we expected.”
One of the top priorities for collaborative educational efforts is ensuring that legalization doesn’t lead to an increase in youth marijuana consumption. Part of that work includes building public awareness that Colorado law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from using, purchasing or possessing marijuana. In Summit County, the Healthy Futures Initiative empowers young people to make healthy choices for a lifestyle free of alcohol and drug abuse.
“We want to equip parents with information so they can understand this new era’s legal landscape — and also so they feel prepared to address it with their children in an appropriate way,” said Julie Sutor, Summit County spokeswoman.
There hasn’t been an increase in disciplinary incidents at Summit High School since retail marijuana became legal in 2014, but there are always new challenges for which school administrators and teachers must stay vigilant.
Colorado’s legal marijuana industry has brought with it myriad types of cannabis products, from oils to edibles to vaporizer pens. This means there is a variety of products that may not be as easily detectable by teachers and administrators in the schools, said Brittny Acres, Summit High School Dean of Students.
Youth might also find some of these new products — such as candy-flavored edibles — more appealing to try, which is another reason why ongoing education is essential. Marijuana consumption can seriously affect brain development, which is occurring well into a person’s 20s.
“I think it’s really important to know who you’re hanging out with and how to remove yourself from the situation,” Acres said. “We have to teach kids to be confident in themselves. Their friends will be their friends regardless of whether they said no. You can say ‘no’ and that’s OK.”
Kassidy Pothier, who graduated from Summit High School this year, is a Youth Advisor for Communities that Care, a prevention initiative for youth substance abuse. She’s proud of the work Communities that Care is doing because she sees how it’s invigorating her peers to spread the word that using marijuana isn’t cool.
“(Legal marijuana) has changed the landscape because it seems that youth have an easier time getting marijuana than before,” she said.
Pothier said that some kids might feel peer pressure, but she tries to remind them that it’s more important to stick to their beliefs.
“No one is going to hate or judge you for not using marijuana,” she said. “If you believe that it is OK for people over the age of 21 to do it, then just wait until then. There are specific reasons why this is the age limit — (lawmakers) didn’t set the age to taunt you or make you mad.”
It’s never too early to talk to your children about saying no to marijuana, she said. But Pothier has this piece of advice when approaching the subject: don’t talk down to them.
“Talk to us as adults,” she said. “Just because a kid asks about marijuana, do not always assume they are using it and punish them.”
A new frontier
Parents might remember trying marijuana back in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s without much incident. You smoked it, felt a little stoned and moved on. Today’s marijuana isn’t the same, though.
“Marijuana products can be purchased in a variety of concentrations. Some of these products are significantly more potent than the marijuana of the past,” according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Some research has shown marijuana flower with as much as 30 percent THC — that’s compared to roughly 10 percent found in the marijuana of years past.
Parents need to understand this and remember to not compare it to their own experiences when they were younger. It’s not apples to apples.
Haynes recommends having honest, open dialogue with young people to help them understand why legal marijuana might not be as harmful for the adults who can legally consume it, and why it is important for kids to wait.
“Don’t use scare tactics. Teens don’t relate to those worst-case scenario tactics,” she said. “If you can be honest and truthful about potential consequences and the impacts of marijuana on the adolescent brain by using real-life material to explain and educate them, that has shown to have a better impact.”
Know the laws
Legal recreational marijuana in Colorado doesn’t mean anything goes. Here are some key regulations that parents and young people should know:
- Marijuana is illegal in Colorado for anyone under the age of 21.
- It’s a felony to give marijuana to anyone younger than 21. This includes family members.
- People under 21 who get caught with marijuana could get a Minor In Possession (MIP) charge, which could result in fines, loss of eligibility for federal student financial aid, loss of driving privileges and mandatory drug treatment.
- It’s illegal to use in public places.
- Federal land — such as U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management lands — is off limits.
- Marijuana cannot leave the state.
- Driving high can lead to a DUI.
- Adults over the age of 21 can buy or possess up to one ounce of marijuana at a time.
- If you have marijuana in your car, it must be sealed and unused.
- All marijuana products include a universal caution symbol on packaging (see symbol).