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Teens and pot use: Parents, here’s what you need to talk about

Parents who have convinced their children that alcohol and tobacco are bad for them are likely struggling next with how to talk with their teens about marijuana — especially as it has become legal for adults to use for recreational use in Colorado.

The perceptions many teens — and often, their parents — have about pot are not only wrong, they can be dangerous, say medical and treatment professionals.

An ongoing study of the behaviors and attitudes of teens and young adults has found that while teens aren’t necessarily reporting higher use of marijuana, they’re less likely to consider it “risky.” The 2013 Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found that from 2005 to 2013, the percentage of high school students seeing great risk from being a regular marijuana user has fallen among eighth-graders from 74 percent to 61 percent, and among 12th-graders from 58 percent to 40 percent. This concerns members of the medical community who say that pot is bad for developing brains.

We asked a few professionals in Colorado to address some of the questions teens often ask about pot.

Pot isn’t addictive — is it?

Pot problems in Colorado schools increase with legalization

In two years of work as an undercover officer with a drug task force, Mike Dillon encountered plenty of drugs. But nothing has surprised him as much as what he has seen in schools lately.

Dillon, who is now a school resource officer with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department, said he is seeing more and younger kids bringing marijuana to schools, in sometimes-surprising quantities.

“When we have middle school kids show up with a half an ounce, that is shocking to me,” Dillon said.

The same phenomenon is being reported around Colorado after the 2010 regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries and the 2012 vote to legalize recreational marijuana.

Colorado parents conflicted over marijuana legalization, survey finds

Colorado parents are conflicted about the state’s new world of legalized, commercialized marijuana, according to the results of a survey released Tuesday.

Nearly half of parents of children ages 10-19 say they support legalizing recreational use of marijuana, nearly three-quarters support medical marijuana and most say that misused prescription drugs, alcohol and tobacco pose greater threats to kids. But parents still say there should be strict regulations around marijuana — including 87 percent supporting a total ban on pot advertising.

“It’s just not seen as that dangerous,” Scott Kotchko, a pollster for New York-based Whitman Insight Strategies, said Tuesday in announcing the results.

“This does not mean that adults in this country or in Colorado think that it is OK to use marijuana in a completely unregulated manner.”

The Partnership at, a national organization dedicated to combating substance abuse among youth, commissioned the survey and presented the results at a panel discussion at the University of Denver on the possible impacts of marijuana legalization in Colorado.

Overall, the survey found that half of parents across the country and 62 percent of parents in Colorado had used marijuana at least once in their lives. That experience colored parents’ attitudes about marijuana, with parents who had smoked pot more likely to favor marijuana legalization.

But parents also have serious worries about marijuana use by kids, with more than 80 percent saying they think it is a credible concern that pot use could negatively impact future opportunities, hinder brain development and hurt school performance.

Parents also want strict controls on marijuana use and sales. Over 90 percent of parents surveyed said marijuana smoking should be prohibited in the same places where tobacco smoking is, that marijuana should come with warning labels like cigarettes, that it should be illegal to provide marijuana to underage users and that the minimum age for use should be 21.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, speaking at the panel discussion, said the survey results show the “cognitive dissonance” in Colorado over marijuana legalization in that parents want to allow it but also keep kids from being exposed to it.

“We’re going to have to look at a different way of influencing our young people beside the regulatory system,” Suthers said.

Brian Vicente, one of the proponents of marijuana legalization in Colorado, said rules are already in place or soon will be in place to address almost all the regulation concerns parents raised in the survey.

John Ingold