Study doesn’t deter Aspen officials’ concerns about youth drug use |

Study doesn’t deter Aspen officials’ concerns about youth drug use

In light of a study that shows marijuana may be safer than initially thought, a school official and a local anti-drug activist remain outspoken on the ill effects associated with adolescent cannabis use.

In January, the online journal Scientific Reports published research that compares mortality rates of 10 recreational drugs. Among the key findings is that marijuana is far safer than alcohol. The latter was recorded as the most dangerous of the group and 114 times more deadly than marijuana, according to the report.

The idea that marijuana is safer than alcohol is nothing new, and the study only confirms drug-safety rankings from a decade ago. But the research suggests that the ill effects of cannabis “may have been overestimated in the past,” while dangers linked to alcohol have been “commonly underestimated.”

Based on these findings, the report’s authors suggest that anti-drug groups would be better served combating risks linked to alcohol and the fourth-deadliest in the study, tobacco.

Aspen School District Superintendent John Maloy said Friday that he doesn’t care that adults are legally consuming marijuana but that Colorado’s legalization of medical and recreational cannabis has given some of his students the sense that it’s acceptable.

“Certainly, we’re always concerned about youngsters, adolescents, using illegal substance and the impact on the adolescent brain,” Maloy said.

Since legalization, he said he has seen two significant changes: different perceptions of cannabis and a slight uptick in the number of disciplinary issues surrounding the drug at Aspen High School.

“I’m concerned about that,” Maloy said. “It’s going to take some time for the appropriate behavior seen on the part of adults, to not walk along the street and light up like it’s a cigarette. Our kids see that behavior modeled in town, and I think it creates some confusion with them about what’s right and what’s wrong.”

Angela Marion, co-organizer of the local charter program Drug Free World, shared Maloy’s sentiment, arguing that when adolescents see recreational drug use in public, it adds to their sense that the drug is acceptable for them to use. When it was illegal, there was a moral and legal barrier deterring adolescent use, she said.

“Now that it’s gone, kids go, ‘It’s legal. It must be OK,’ just like they think with beer and alcohol,” she said. “I definitely think it takes away some feeling of, ‘Well, it’s not OK; it’s not good.’”

She said Friday that Scientific Reports’ findings ignore other important risks associated with marijuana, such as negative cognitive effects and increased cases of psychosis, schizophrenia and bronchitis.

Drug Free World is an educational program linked to Los Angeles-based International Foundation. Marion and her husband, Brandon Marion, are scheduled to meet with Gov. John Hickenlooper on March 9 to influence policy for the ever-evolving marijuana industry.

“How are they going to educate the kids?” Marion asked. “That’s a big thing for (Hickenlooper).”

According to an August report published by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Trafficking Area, Colorado adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 reported using marijuana at a 39 percent higher rate than the national average in 2012. The report states that the same group saw a 26 percent increase in usage between 2009, the year before medical marijuana was introduced, and 2012.

Maloy compared frontiers in the marijuana industry to those of the tobacco industry, seatbelt use and helmet safety on the mountain. Once the novelty wears off, he hopes young people will say “No” to cannabis quicker than they did to tobacco.

“Tobacco use is significantly down,” Maloy said. “I think, over time, we have somewhat won the battle about sharing and having people understand the health and safety issues associated with tobacco, and we’re probably going to have to take the same course with marijuana.”

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