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Voices: A more honest approach to marijuana

Denver mom and school psychologist Erika Joye argues that legalizing and controlling the sale of marijuana via Amendment 64 will actually make life safer for Colorado’s children.

As a nationally certified school psychologist, I have spent most of my career helping improve the lives of children. As a professional and as a mom, I believe it is crucial that we do everything we can to make Colorado a place where they can grow up safe and healthy. To that end, I fully support Amendment 64, the initiative on this year’s ballot to regulate marijuana like alcohol.

Our current system of marijuana prohibition is not only failing to protect our children, but actually putting them in harm’s way. In particular, it forces marijuana sales into an uncontrolled and easily accessible underground market where proof of age is not required. It should come as no surprise that government surveys consistently find that marijuana is universally available to high school students and easier to purchase than alcohol or tobacco. In addition, those minors who inevitably seek out marijuana in a criminal market are likely to be exposed to more harmful illegal products.

This November, Colorado voters have the opportunity to change history and implement an intellectually honest policy that reflects the facts. By passing Amendment 64, we can regulate and control marijuana for adults over 21 years of age. Marijuana would be tightly regulated similarly to alcohol. It would be behind a counter and available only to adults 21 and over who show proper ID. Furthermore, it would be taxed similarly to alcohol, providing a much-needed stream of revenue.

That revenue would be used to improve and maintain schools across the state, with the first $40 million of revenue raised annually directed to the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund. From there, it can be leveraged via bonds into hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Plus, there will be tens of millions of dollars that can be spent on other things, such as our public parks.

Every time new marijuana laws come up, much is written about how the laws could affect children and schools and rightfully so. The truth is that taking marijuana out of the underground market and regulating it will help make the substance less accessible to teens. By putting a regulated substance behind a counter, requiring proof of age and strictly controlling its sale, we make it harder for teens to get their hands on it.

Requiring IDs for cigarette purchases worked

For evidence of a similar policy succeeding, we need to look no further than cigarettes. In 1995, as a result of increasing cigarette use and availability among teens, the U.S. government developed a program called “We Card.” Backed by significant investments in public education about the harms of tobacco use, it implemented strict restrictions on teen access to cigarettes without punishing adult consumers. Immediately, teen cigarettes use began declining and has continued to decline.

We are seeing something similar with respect to teen marijuana use in Colorado. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, a federal agency charged with protecting public health and safety, teen marijuana use in the state has dropped since the state began enacting strict state and local regulations for medical marijuana in 2009, whereas teen use rose nationwide over the same period. The same survey also found that regulation could reduce teen access to illegal drugs while at school, showing a significant decline in students reporting that they have been “offered, sold or given an illegal drug by someone on school property.”

We must provide teens with accurate information and appropriate warnings so that they can make the best possible choices. I understand the positive intentions that motivate those who are reluctant to change our ineffective marijuana laws. The last thing we want is a world in which marijuana is freely sold to children without regard to age or any other regulation. Unfortunately, with marijuana prohibition, we are in that world now.

It’s time to get honest with our children and with ourselves by adopting a more honest policy on marijuana. One that allows adults to use marijuana responsibly, but also makes it clear it is not a product for minors and makes it harder for them to get their hands on. Amendment 64 proposes just that, and I hope you will join me in supporting it.

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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