Colorado needs to track cannabis use by minors

Sean Kennedy

Sean Kennedy
Sean Kennedy

Colorado’s control over cannabis might not be up to snuff.

Since we set the precedent in 2012 by being the first state to legalize marijuana, we have seen this new freedom phased into our daily lives fairly smoothly. The state has enjoyed the nearly $60 million in tax revenue from the production and sale of cannabis,  while receiving little to no challenge from federal agencies. However, not every aspect of this transition has been a green dream.

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Earlier this month, the Coloradoan reported that the State of Colorado is not actively monitoring marijuana use by minors; they have not tracked pot use or violations among minors since sale of marijuana to consumers began, or before the passage of Amendment 64. Granted, the Colorado Department of Education does require schools to report student drug violations; however, most of these schools do not distinguish marijuana-related offenses from other drugs in their data. This lack of coherency from the state is concerning because of how recently marijuana has entered our market; just because the transition has been smooth does not mean we can ignore certain effects that the legalization of marijuana could have.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to cannabis by any means, nor I am arguing for a change in the law. However, drug use by minors is not a small issue, especially when we’re talking cannabis usage among Colorado minors. According to a 2013 report from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, marijuana use is nearly twice as high among Colorado minors than the U.S. average. Clearly, pot is more a part of our culture than in the average state in the U.S., which highlights the need for attention on this matter from the state. We need to have a uniform way to track how cannabis use by minors responds to commercial sale of marijuana entering local markets.

Currently, that is not the case. According to the Coloradoan, law agencies report minors’ drug violations differently from one another, and schools do not track marijuana incidents separate from other student incidents involving drugs or alcohol. For example, the Fort Collins police track infractions for marijuana separate from other youth drug charges, while Larimer County law enforcement does not.

We need our state to pay attention to this issue and have a uniform way of collecting data from schools and law enforcement agencies so they can effectively monitor cannabis use among minors. It is unlikely that we will see any dramatic shift in drug culture as a result of marijuana legalization, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the matter entirely. The effects of cannabis on minors is well-documented, and we need legislators to be prepared if we do see significant increase in the habit among youth as a result of the law change. Marijuana has been incredibly beneficial to our state, both in terms of tax revenue and some people’s health, but it would be irresponsible not to monitor the situation and remain ignorant of the potential repercussions.

Collegian Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @seanskenn.