Glenwood Springs underage pot citations up in 2014
Marijuana related arrests were up in 2014 in Garfield County’s two biggest communities, with the majority of citations for underage consumption.
Glenwood Springs Police issued 38 out of 56 marijuana related citations to juveniles last year, compared to 35 out of 51 in 2013. In Rifle, the figures were 14 out of 20 in 2013 and 22 out of 38 in 2014.
According Glenwood Police Chief Terry Wilson, the high percentage of juvenile arrests in 2013 was a bit of an anomaly itself. Just five years prior, only 17 of 86 citations went to people under 21. Wilson thinks the trend started around the time medical marijuana came to town.
“Anybody and their pet dog could get a medical card,” he quipped. “I had no idea there were so many young people in such gross need of medical attention.”
The same pattern is reflected in behavior referral records for Glenwood Springs High School. The school handled 30 cases during the 2009-10 school year compared to 6 the year before. Things seemed to settle down somewhat after that, with 13 citations in 2010-11, 9 in 2011-12, and 4 in 2012-13. The implementation of amendment 64, however, seems to have produced another spike. There were 17 cases in 2013-14 and 19 already this school year.
Vice Principal Gayla Rowe cautioned that the figures may be somewhat inflated by busts involving large groups. RFSD assistant superintendent Rob Stein declined to provide district-wide data, asserting that rates are too low to make meaningful comparisons over time.
“One party can throw off our numbers for a whole year,” he said.
Anecdotal evidence seems to corroborate the data, however.
“We’re dealing with more kids walking into school stoned out of their noodles than I’ve ever seen in my life,” Wilson said. “It’s been uncommon for us to go a week without having to go assist the school with someone in possession or under the influence.”
According to Dean of Students Pat Engle, both parents and law enforcement are contacted whenever a student is caught under the influence. Most infractions result in a short term suspension and a ticket. The legal element, he said, helps get students into programs like YouthZone, which the district doesn’t offer internally. Only distribution triggers a potential expulsion, and so far that hasn’t been an issue.
According to Engle and Rowe, most busts come from a concerned teacher or observant neighbor as opposed to locker and backpack searches.
“I am not a drug recognition expert, but I can pretty much tell when a kid is high,” Engle said.
That’s usually the end of it.
“Once they get caught they generally don’t do it again,” Engle said.
“It’s different kids each time,” Wilson agreed.
That may explain why the citation rate has tapered off significantly since October. Whether it will follow the same trend as 2010 and ultimately return to single digits remains to be seen.
Engle says his main concern is the safety of his students.
“It was very concerning,” he said. “There are real negative impacts from marijuana on the teenage brain.”
Part of addressing the issue may be identifying the source of the uptick. Unfortunately, there may be more than one factor at work.
Legalizing medical and retail marijuana may make it easier to get a hold of. As with alcohol, it may be present in a kids’ household, or someone over 21 can purchase it legitimately and resell it. Right now, however, more students seem to be coming to school high than drunk. Alcohol citation rates at Glenwood High have hovered in the single digits for the past decade.
It’s also possible that limited legality is creating the impression that anything goes. Even some adults seem unaware of regulations against consuming in public.
“One thing we’ve heard on the street a lot is, “Dude, it’s legal,”” Wilson said.
Ultimately, Engle emphasized that the citations represent a tiny minority of a school that has grown to 879 students.
“Eight-hundred and sixty kids are doing it right,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of them are coming to school ready to be students.”
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Officer Haley Walker sat beside her stepmother in a windowless interrogation room just before starting the overnight shift on Thursday evening.