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Voices: Schools challenged enough without legalized pot

Denver school board members and parents speak out against the passage of Amendment 64, which would legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.

As school board members and parents in the fastest-growing urban district in the country, we understand the struggles Colorado students are facing. While demographics and specific issues may be different in our communities, providing our children with an excellent education and the tools they need to succeed in the future are a shared aspiration.

A group of Denver East High School students on a lunch break near the school display rolling papers used to smoke pot in this <em>EdNews</em> file photo.
A group of Denver East High School students on a lunch break near the school display rolling papers used to smoke pot in this EdNews file photo.
Colorado Department of Education

Our students are dealing with a lot. Their world is an uncertain place and the challenges they face growing into adulthood require their full, unimpaired attention. Making access to marijuana easier, as Amendment 64 would do, adds one more challenge to their already full plates and makes our jobs as parents and teachers much harder.

That’s why parents and teachers are joining together with elected officials and other community leaders and groups to oppose Amendment 64. In fact, the Colorado Education Association recently announced its opposition to the amendment. This amendment to the Colorado constitution would legalize possession and use of up to an ounce of pot. That’s enough to roll 60 joints – enough to get more than an entire classroom of Colorado students too high to concentrate on the important work of learning.

The amendment specifies that only adults 21 and older could buy and use marijuana, but we have to assume that it would be pretty much the same situation as we have currently in which any semi-determined teenager, can already easily get marijuana – and do. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that by the time they graduate from high school, 42 percent of teenagers will have tried marijuana, and that’s under current law, which prohibits it. In 2009, 16.7 million Americans 12 and older acknowledged they’d used marijuana at least once in the last month, and one in ten teenagers admitted to using pot at least 20 times a month.

Teachers should focus on teaching – not drug infractions

Teachers and school administrators have already been forced to spend more time dealing with drug problems rather than focusing on the classroom. Colorado’s Department of Education reports that school expulsions because of marijuana-associated drug violations are rising. Since Colorado approved medical marijuana in 2009, suspensions for public school drug violations have soared 45 percent, expulsions are up 35 percent and police referrals by 17 percent. Legalizing pot will not change this picture. In fact, things will get worse in schools because with increased access, drug policy analysts anticipate marijuana use doubling among young people ages 12 to 25.

Troubling information, but there are worse problems to consider. Marijuana hurts our children’s health and their minds. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is addictive. Thousands of young people who should be learning in schoolrooms are, instead, in rehab programs – 67 percent of them are there for marijuana abuse. Solid scientific research shows that pot smoking not only damages lungs it also shows that marijuana use permanently affects adolescent’s brain development and harms their learning ability. Marijuana makes teenagers – already dealing with hormone-induced moodiness and difficult peer pressure – more prone to depression and suicide.

Finally, there’s the driving question. Inexperienced teen drivers sometimes make risky decisions. We already have problems with teenage drinking and driving. Marijuana and driving don’t mix, either, because pot affects perception, coordination and reaction time.

We need Colorado’s youth sitting safely in our classrooms, clear-eyed, engaged and absolutely unimpaired, tackling the challenge and responsibility of becoming educated, productive citizens. Stand by our kids. Vote no on Amendment 64.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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