Five years ago, Colorado legalized recreational marijuana. The experiment has “reshaped health, politics, rural culture and criminal justice in surprising ways that often defy both the worst warnings of critics and blue-sky rhetoric of the marijuana industry,” the New York Times reports. More people are visiting emergency rooms for marijuana-related problems, and hospitals report higher rates of mental-health cases tied to marijuana. Some families rattled by their children’s marijuana problems have moved, seeking refuge in less permissive states. Surveys do not show an increase in young people smoking pot. While low-level marijuana charges have plummeted, African Americans are still being arrested on marijuana charges at nearly twice the rate of white people.
“You don’t see drug-addled people roaming the streets, but we haven’t created a utopia,” said Jonathan Singer, one of just two state legislators who endorsed legalization. Doctors, educators and state officials worry about the effects of legalization on youth. Eighty percent of teens are not current marijuana users. Teen marijuana use has fallen slightly since medical marijuana sales ramped up in 2009, and has been flat since full legalization. School disciplinary numbers show that marijuana is a leading reason students are punished or handed over to the police. The overall number of students being expelled for drug infractions has fallen since legalization, in part because Colorado lawmakers sought to get rid of “zero tolerance” policies at schools around the same time pot was legalized. Some parents said marijuana was becoming too normal, another legally permissible health risk with slick marketing, like alcohol or cigarettes. Children smell marijuana on hikes, and count dispensaries on their rides home from school. Nearly twice as many Coloradans smoke pot as the rest of the U.S. The battle between legalization’s supporters and foes is focused on whether heavier pot use is hurting people’s health.