Sheriff, principal see societal woes in legal pot
March 11, 2015
As 21-year-old Rifle resident Hector Manuel Ruiz prepares to defend himself against allegations that he knowingly provided marijuana edibles for distribution at Coal Ridge High School, the school itself is also dealing with the aftermath, and the county sheriff sees it as a logical consequence of marijuana legalization.
In early February, after a student got sick from eating a marijuana-laced cookie, authorities found that nine students had been involved in eating or distributing items that Ruiz is alleged to have purchased legally at a Silt recreational pot shop.
"Since the incident, I have met with my administrative team and members of the Garfield County Sheriff's Department to discuss how we can be more proactive in our approach," Principal Rick Elertson said in an email. "In addition, we intend to add more thoughtful conversations in our classrooms around this topic. All of these conversations are ongoing, and no action in any direction has been implemented, but certainly will be in the near future."
Said Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, "We knew this was going to happen," noting that it exemplifies the contradictions of legal marijuana.
"These are the things that nobody wanted to hear when we pointed them out ahead of time," Vallario said Thursday. "They want to say it's a victimless crime, but it does harm other people. It's not just the person smoking dope, it's the other people impacted by their actions.
"Kids have always smoked pot, but I think now that it's legal it gives kids the impression that it's safe and there's nothing wrong with it," he added. "We know, regardless of what adults do with marijuana, there are significant cognitive issue when kids whose brains are developing smoke it."
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Vallario stopped short of blaming the retail marijuana shop that purportedly sold the edibles to Ruiz, framing it instead as a societal issue.
"They probably did their due diligence," he said of the store. "The fact they chose that as their profession, that the town chose to allow it, the fact that the state chose to allow it, all sort of pulls them into complicity. I'm a strong believer and have always been a believer that marijuana is a dangerous drug and should have remained illegal."
Vallario is not among the 10 sheriffs from three states that filed suit Thursday against suing Colorado for legalizing marijuana, but he backs the move.
"I am fully supportive of this lawsuit, which addresses several concerns that I have repeatedly voiced since the legalization of marijuana became a serious topic," Vallario said. "In addition to the many public safety concerns, impacts on Colorado and surrounding states, legal issues regarding the Supremacy Clause, and most importantly the negative impact on our youth, I am concerned that legalizing the use of a controlled substance puts me, and all other law enforcement officers sworn to uphold the state Constitution and well as the Constitution of the United States, in a position where we are violating one to uphold the other."
The suit contends that marijuana legalization vote violates federal law and shouldn't be permitted.
"A state may not establish its own policy that is directly counter to federal policy against trafficking in controlled substance," the sheriffs argue in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver.
The sheriffs' lawsuit is the just latest legal challenge to legal weed. Separately, Nebraska and Oklahoma have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down marijuana legalization in Colorado. The Supreme Court hasn't said yet whether it will hear that case.
Also, a group of Colorado residents has filed its own federal challenge, saying marijuana reduces property values.
Although Vallario expects to see more incidents of underage and illicit consumption of marijuana in the future, he doesn't plan on letting "I told you so" get in the way of his commitment to the law and to the county.
"We're going to certainly do whatever we can to make sure the public is safe," he said. "We still have an obligation to our community to protect them."
At Coal Ridge, Elertson said, the incident "has strengthened our resolve in helping kids make more positive choices."
"The unfortunate incident … involving the sale and consumption of edible marijuana by students from CRHS is in no way emblematic of our school. However, we acknowledge that we are not immune to these kinds of poor choices by students, as no schools seem to be."
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