Marijuana is a hot topic in Colorado. It's the subject of a parade of news reports: the Colorado Department of Public Health is holding hearings on medical marijuana rules; municipalities are enacting moratoriums against new dispensaries; and a measure to legalize pot may be on the 2012 ballot. Like it or not, the future of our kids depends on our engagement in the debate.
Voters approved a referendum in 2000 to amend the state Constitution regarding medical marijuana. Doctors were granted the right to recommend marijuana use to alleviate pain from "debilitating medical conditions." Such conditions include cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, severe pain and nausea.
Pursuant to the law, patients are issued a card that allows them to possess up to two ounces of pot and as many as six marijuana plants.
The medical marijuana law in Colorado functioned on a small scale until 2009, when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) declined to set rules to limit the number of patients that "caregivers" can treat. Seemingly overnight, medical marijuana became a major topic of debate in city councils and the state Legislature.
The stakes are high for our communities.
YouthZone - a nonprofit helping young people in Colorado become responsible, contributing members of society - keeps statistics on young clients who are using pot regularly. The number has climbed by about 50 percent during the past year.
In a growing number of these situations, the individual has obtained the pot from someone with a license. The ramifications of this trend are serious.
Marijuana is a powerful drug that alters feelings and moods. It's not uncommon for young people to become psychologically addicted to the alternate reality provided by pot.
Most youth who are heavy users remain immature in the realm of coping, logic and rationale. They are far less likely to be involved with school and extracurricular activities as compared to their peers. There is no question that pot jeopardizes the future of addicted kids.
Regardless of age, marijuana effects mental alertness, judgment and motor skills. It impairs the ability of a person to drive. Studies by the National Transportation Safety Board find that pot is a factor in as many accidents as alcohol.
Undeterred, a group called Sensible Colorado is petitioning to put a measure to legalize pot on the 2012 ballot. In addition to medical benefits, they claim legalized marijuana would provide government with a cash cow due to tax revenue.
But federal government data shows that people, especially kids, are more likely to use cocaine and heroin after using marijuana. What tax rate is required to offset the socio-economic damage of rising drug use? Outright legalization of pot is a slippery slope.
Legalizing marijuana solely for medicinal purposes may have some merit, though pot is not a wonder drug. Research from reputable sources such as the Mayo Clinic indicate that marijuana is no more effective in treating debilitating medical conditions than available pharmaceutical drugs. And for the sake of honest debate, a synthetic THC (the major psychoactive component of marijuana) drug called Marinol has been available to the public for more than 25 years.
Here's another wild card. Marijuana is still a controlled substance under federal law. That means state and local employees engaged in regulation of any facet of marijuana use may be exposed to prosecution by the federal justice department. Citizens, community leaders and state legislators must proceed with caution while developing rules and licensing requirements.
The Constitution of the United States guarantees that American citizens are generally free to make choices about their lives. But when it comes to marijuana and other drugs, we must tread carefully.
Coloradans should ponder a simple question. Can our communities conceive an effective plan to keep legalized pot out of our kids' hands? Perhaps we should look to alcohol for the answer.
James D. Kellogg of New Castle is a professional engineer, the author of the novel "E-Force," and the founder of LiberTEAWatch. com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.