Report: Adult pot use high, youth use a concern

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times
The "nugget mine" at Green Dragon, on the Hyman Avenue Mall in Aspen.
Lynn Goldsmith/Special to The Aspen Times |

Marijuana use among adults in the region that includes Pitkin, Garfield, Eagle, Summit and Grand counties is the third-highest in the state behind the Denver and Boulder areas, according to a recent Colorado Department of Public Safety report.

And while statistics on marijuana use among middle schoolers in the region is below average and right at the average for high school students, that information was gathered before recreational marijuana became legal Jan. 1, 2014, according to the report. More up-to-date numbers and anecdotal evidence, however, suggests those numbers could be changing, said Lori Mueller, executive director of YouthZone.

“Kids really have gotten the message about drinking and driving,” Mueller said. “But actually, kids say (marijuana) is less of a big deal than alcohol.

“They say, ‘I don’t drink and drive, but I can drive high just fine.’”

The Colorado Department of Public Safety report, which is legally mandated and was released earlier this month, examined the impacts of marijuana legalization. However, report authors cautioned that the majority of information presented should be considered “precommercialization” because it is based on information available only through 2014.

However, most of the information in the report pertaining to youth use comes from the 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which comes out every two years. The 2015 version has not yet been released.

According to the 2013 information, 4.8 percent of middle school students in the region that includes Pitkin County used marijuana in the 30 days before taking the survey. The state average for middle schoolers was 5.1 percent, according to the report.

For high school students in Pitkin County’s region, 19.7 percent reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, which exactly equals the state average, according to the report.

In fact, the report shows that overall, marijuana use among youth dropped between 2005 and 2013. But Mueller, whose organization works with kids ages 6 to 18 who have gotten into trouble with drugs or alcohol, said that since legalization, she thinks children don’t take marijuana as seriously as before.

“We’ve had kids come in where they have a medical marijuana (card) and they’re just laughing,” she said. “One kid said, ‘I’m better at work when I’m high.’”

YouthZone surveys the children it counsels and releases the data in three-year chunks, Mueller said. And while the latest numbers for the Parachute to Aspen area only include the period from April 2014 to March 2015, they show an increase in use since 2007.

For example, 53 percent of kids in the 2007 to 2010 survey said none of their friends had used marijuana in the past year. That number has dropped to 34 percent in the 2014-15 survey.

The number of children who said they didn’t use pot at all dropped from 74 percent in 2007 to 2010 to 60 percent in 2014-15, according to the YouthZone numbers.

“Kids are really showing that they’re using more and their friends are using more,” Mueller said.

Craig Rogers, Aspen Middle School principal, said that while middle school use appears to be below average in Pitkin County’s region, he wants to keep it that way. So this week, representatives of a nonprofit offshoot of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation are meeting with every eighth-grader at the school to counsel them on the dangers of marijuana and other drugs, he said.

“Given that (marijuana) is legal, it’s essential that we educate middle school students on the adverse affects (of it) on brain development,” Rogers said.

Adult use in the region that includes Pitkin County is 15.6 percent, according to the Department of Public Safety report. That compares with a state average of 13.6 percent. Boulder and Broomfield counties had the highest rate at 18.9 percent, while Denver was a close second at 18.5 percent, the report states.

The region’s high level of adult use may be related to the tourist economy, said Bill Linn, Aspen’s assistant police chief. It also might have to do with the fact that there’s a lot of retail stores, medical dispensaries, product manufacturers and cultivators in the Roaring Fork Valley.

As of December, there are 18 marijuana-related licenses in Aspen, five in Basalt, 21 in Carbondale and 17 in Glenwood Springs, the report states.

And despite the fact that seven retail dispensaries in Aspen sold more than $8.3 million marijuana in 2015, the city has not been adversely affected by legalization, Linn said.

Cops do have to frequently counsel people about consuming the drug in public and are definitely concerned about juveniles getting their hands on the drug, but legalization hasn’t presented huge obstacles, he said. In addition, dispensary owners are generally cooperative with police and often call officers when they have a question about someone’s identification, Linn said.

“Has it really affected town?” Linn said. “No.”