How Marijuana Legalization Affects Colorado’s Kids

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Updated 09/08/2023

How Marijuana Legalization Affects Colorado’s Kids

The legalization of marijuana has impacted Colorado’s children in several important ways that legislators may not have anticipated or intended when they changed the law in 2014. Marijuana is not legal for children under 18 and other restrictions were also put in place to protect children, but statistics show that children have not been completely shielded from all of the effects of the new law.

Increase in Accidental Ingestion

Despite the labeling and packaging rules required on retail marijuana, the Denver Post reported that hospital visits because of accidental marijuana ingestion by children doubled in 2014 and 2015 after the law was changed. Many of the children suffered little to no effects from ingesting the drug, but some ended up in intensive care and one actually entered the Emergency Department unresponsive and then died.

Poison control cases increased 5-fold after the law changed, but most of these cases were minor in their effect on youngsters. Many of the accidental ingestion cases are from edible products like brownies or candies, which young children do not realize contain marijuana. A law passed in 2016 will eventually ban any edible marijuana products in the shape of animals or fruit in an attempt to keep very young children from being attracted to the products.

Increases in Use by Teens

Studies so far have not shown an increase in use among teens, particularly high school students, according to a report by the Colorado Health Institute. About 20 percent of all high school students had reported using marijuana in the previous 30 days, with 28 percent of 12th graders and only 12 percent of 9th graders reporting use.

While teens have not increased their use of marijuana so far, the number of students who said they viewed regular marijuana use as a concern dropped from 54 to 48 percent from 2013 to 2015, Colorado Health Institute reported.

Teens who do use marijuana are violating the law, and are subject to legal penalties. Adults who furnish teens with drugs are also breaking the law and can be prosecuted.

Increases in Use by Teens

Although marijuana is legal for adults in Colorado, it can still lead to arrest if regulations and laws aren’t followed.

Children as Victims of Marijuana-Related Crimes

One unfortunate effect of more adults legally using marijuana is that more users are driving while impaired because of using the drug. Even before the law was changed to allow recreational use, traffic fatalities where one of the drivers tested positive for marijuana use increased 114 percent in less than a decade. More impaired drivers on the road put more people at risk, including children.

Children can also suffer when parents become dependent on marijuana and divert money, time, energy, and attention from them in order to feed a drug dependency. Children may even have to enter the foster care system if parents fail to care for them properly or need to enter treatment with no one left to care for their kids.

Children who are exposed to marijuana use at a young age through accidental ingestion or teen experimentation are more likely to become dependent on it when they get older, and use at a young age can have effects on the brain and physical development that are not fully understood at present.

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