NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

How Do You Talk To Students About Weed When It's Legal?

Bente Birkeland
The hallways at Arapahoe Ridge High School in Boulder, Colo.

Since Colorado has embraced legal retail marijuana sales, schools are grappling with the best way to discusses it in the classroom amid changing attitudes.

"When it's legal for your parents to smoke it or grow it, that changes the conversation," said Odette Edbrooke, the Health Education Coordinator for the Boulder Valley School District.

The Colorado State Department of Education did not change its health curriculum guidelines after voters legalized marijuana, but the state recently awarded grants allowing school districts to hire nurses, psychologists, counselors and school social workers.

That's the approach Boulder Valley is taking, bringing in a neuroscientist to talk to health classes about the impacts of marijuana on brain development.

"During that time period from 12-to-17 their mind is changing and growing as much as when they three years and younger, so there are some incredible things that are happening when they're learning how to make decisions," said Kevin Braney, a former principal and now the discipline coordinator for the Boulder Valley School District.

Beyond the grants in school, the state has also used money from marijuana taxes to put out a series of ads on the negative impacts of smoking marijuana. They have been met with mixed success.

One student, 16-year-old Albert Amaya of Miami Yoder High School in eastern El Paso County said the ads use scare tactics and are ineffective.

"I saw one of the smoking commercials and this guy couldn't start a BBQ because he was high, that's taking it to the extreme I think," Amaya said. "I don't think just because you're high you can't function."

For one of Amaya's classmates, the educational campaigns aren't as effective as her own real life experiences. Mercedes Wisenbaugh, a senior at Miami Yoder, points to differences she sees between users and non-users.

"I've seen my family members, I see how lazy they get, I see how unmotivated they get, I see how they're not tuned into reality," Wisenbaugh said. "They're in a different fog than everybody who does not smoke marijuana."

As schools work through how to reach their students, anecdotal evidence compiled by Rocky Mountain PBS I-News suggests more students are using marijuana. It's anecdotal because schools aren't required to separate out marijuana incidents from other illicit drugs such as cocaine.

For Carol Gibbs of Greenwood Village marijuana education in the classroom can help students begin to sort through the confusion.

"The messaging that probably I give my son and that I would like school to pick up on is I would like them to be given better coping skills," the mother of four said.

Her youngest son is 16-years-old and attends Littleton public schools.

"When things get tough, I want these kids to have more options than relaxing with a joint, or getting lost in their electronic devices," said Gibbs.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
Related Content