Aspen parents must have honest talks with children about the pitfalls of marijuana, authorities say | AspenTimes.com

Aspen parents must have honest talks with children about the pitfalls of marijuana, authorities say

For all of the forms that recreational marijuana comes in these days — cookies, patches, lotions and so on — one of the chief concerns among community leaders is how youth perceive them in the dawn of legalization and what parents are doing about it.

"We are concerned about youth, but youth are supervised by their parents," Sheriff Joe DiSalvo told Aspen and Pitkin County elected officials Wednesday. "Parents have to really step up the plate and really get educated on these products. In fact, we're struggling to find ways to educate parents."

As the stigma of marijuana use gradually erodes — voters in eight states favored marijuana legalization during the Nov. 8 elections — social acceptance is on the rise. But there is a downside to that, said Brad Stevenson of the Valley Marijuana Council.

"When perception of harm goes down, use goes up," he said.

DiSalvo and Stevenson, speaking as part of the Valley Marijuana Council's quarterly update, said government can only do so much in educating youth about detrimental effects of cannabis on the developing brain.

That onus falls on the parents, council members said. Even so, government leaders are mulling ways to bridge the gap between parents and their kids when it comes to talking pot.

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Marijuana-infused edible products have authorities particularly concerned because of the innocuous appearance of many — they come as candies, cookies and brownies, among other versions.

DiSalvo, however, questioned whether it was fair to single out the cannabis industry for its seemingly seducing-looking products when the alcohol trade also promotes images of beer cans with Denver Broncos logos or green cans of Bud Light resembling Mountain Dew.

"There are attractive bottles in every window of every liquor store, and in every bar they're lined up and beautifully lit," he said. "Could we be treating this product unfairly because of the stigma that's been attached to it for more than 50 years? We're not applying the same rules; we're applying different rules."

In any case, DiSalvo said a simple YouTube video, produced locally, explaining the effects of marijuana on youth would be a good start. Likewise, Aspen City Councilman Art Daily suggested the creation of a marijuana bible of sorts to be distributed to local parents. Stevenson mentioned providing educational awareness at the point-of-sale in Aspen pot shops.

"I'm a parent, and I don't know enough about this subject, not nearly enough," Daily said. "I'd like to see your group (Valley Marijuana Council) develop something that is simple, direct and clear."

Funding these efforts, which also could include marijuana information booths at local sports events, could possibly, in fact, fall on taxpaying cannabis consumers.

"Every penny that is collected by the city in marijuana taxes should go to this — educating parents and the youth," Councilman Adam Frisch said. "We are collecting money, and I can't think of a better use of it."

In 2015, the city reaped $200,341 in sales tax collections from $8,347,557 in recreational and medical marijuana sales.

"I've always thought that it's the kids who do the experimenting and our jobs to make sure they do it safely," the sheriff said. "I think the parents need to be — and I'm not a parent so that puts me at a disadvantage — having the same conversations you're having with your kids about alcohol, grades, college, sex. We need to have the conversation with the kids."

rcarroll@aspentimes.com