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DENVER, United States – Serenity Christensen, 14, is still too young to be able to enter one of Colorado’s many marijuana stores but has already taken advantage of a legal marijuana business opportunity. She is a Girl Scout scout, who usually sells cookies to raise funds. This year, Christensen, along with his mother, decided to sell from outside a dispensary. “Good business is achieved,” said the young woman.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Denver, legalization has caused discontent for another teenager: student David Perez is against marijuana crops in stores that now surround his neighbourhood. Perez complains that the smell of marijuana is the first thing he smells every time he leaves his house.

These are the disparate effects of five years of legalization. The first such experiment in the United States, conducted in Colorado, has reconfigured health, politics, rural culture and criminal justice in surprising ways that often challenge both the worst warnings of critics and the rhetoric of the industry. Marijuana What happened here gives an idea of ​​what the future holds now that more and more parts of the United States and other countries adopt and debate full legalization.

Since the recreational sale of marijuana began in 2014, more people have gone to the emergency rooms of the state due to problems related to consumption; Hospitals report higher rates of mental health cases related to this product. At the same time, thousands of people go through the dispensaries without incident every day, like a young woman who acts as a hiking guide in the university town of Boulder and keeps a few marijuana jelly beans in a locked bag to relax before bedtime.

Some families restless at the problems with their children’s use of marijuana have moved, seeking refuge in less permissive states. But, in general, state surveys do not show an increase in the number of young people who smoke marijuana.

Minor crimes related to marijuana have diminished considerably, although racial division in drug arrests persists. State figures show that black people in Colorado continue to be detained for crimes related to marijuana at a rate that almost doubles that of whites.

“People who have been deranged by marijuana use are not seen in the streets, but we have not created a utopia,” said Jonathan Singer, who was one of only two state legislators who backed the vote in Colorado that legalized that adults over 21 can buy, consume and grow marijuana for recreational use.

The singer turned to his 3-year-old daughter, who was sitting in the backseat of the car on the way to a picnic recently. “The fact that I am willing to have this conversation in front of my daughter,” he said, “shows how much progress we have made in removing the stigma from this problem.”

 

Another image

This is the world reconfigured by legalization, in which young people like Ethan Pierson, 18, have grown up. He was born the same year in which the first law on the use of marijuana for medical purposes came into force in Colorado; He has witnessed the increase in dispensaries in commercial streets where he moves to his school in Lakewood, a suburban neighbourhood.

“If you live in Colorado, it feels like someone is smoking next to you all the time,” said Pierson, who doesn’t consume the product.

Doctors, educators and state officials have been especially concerned about the effects of legalization on Colorado’s youth. Would the proliferation of recreational cannabis stores make marijuana seem harmless to teenagers, despite studies that prove it is harmful to developing minds? Would the consumption of joints increase among teenagers? How would that affect graduation rates and academic discipline?

Five years of surveys show that most Colorado teenagers are like Pierson: they have tried marijuana, but 80 percent do not consume it today. The state surveys show that consumption among teens has declined considerably since medical marijuana sales soared in 2009 and have remained basically stable since the complete legalization.

Even so, Pierson and other students and parents claim that legalization changed the image and availability of marijuana.

Older siblings or even their classmates’ parents can now buy and share it. Other students take Snapchat videos in which they smoke near the school. Now there is a whole collection of concentrates, tinctures and consumables, which are still illegal for young people but are easily available.

“It’s easy to hide,” Pierson said.”They carry it in the bag or in the case.”

 

Legal cases

Some school administrators say they are seeing an increasing consumption of marijuana and a decrease in alcohol consumption among students. Disciplinary figures from schools show that marijuana is the main reason why students are punished or taken to the police. However, the total number of students expelled for drug-related infractions has, in fact, declined since legalization, in part because Colorado lawmakers sought to get rid of “zero tolerance” policies in schools at almost the same time as the grass was legalized.

In a juvenile justice court, located on a fourth floor in Denver, where teenagers go to a judge for crimes that include fighting and being in areas like parks after the allowed time, the number of cases of possession of marijuana is decreasing. The percentage of teenagers arrested for marijuana-related crimes has fallen by about 20 percent since Colorado voted to legalize the drug, although youth and black adults continue to be arrested at rates much higher than the white or Hispanic population of Colorado, according to a state report. In 2017, black people in the state were arrested for marijuana-related crimes twice as often than whites, according to the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice.

Some parents claim that marijuana has become too normalized to become another legally permissible health risk with well-achieved publicity, such as alcohol or cigarettes. One difference is that marijuana stores cannot advertise in panoramic ads. The dispensaries are also required to check the identifications of potential customers at the door to check their age and it is assumed that they can only be located from 300 meters away from the schools. Consumables can no longer look like gummies in the form of bears or fruits or be called “candies.”

For some parents, that is not enough. They say that their children smell marijuana when they go for a walk and start counting the number of dispensaries on the way home from school. Before making appointments for her daughter to play at friends’ house, Ben Cort now asks the other parents if they have marijuana in the house. Sujata Fretz, a doctor in Denver, says she has already had to talk to her 13-year-old son about how the marijuana industry has proliferated.

“I was forced to talk to my children because it is a more public and obvious matter,” Fretz explained. “I can’t just say ‘Hey, drugs are bad,’ when it’s legal and there are stores that sell them. I intend to ensure that they do not consume marijuana. ”

‘Nothing is 100 percent safe’

The figures seem clear: the number of Colorado people who smoke the drug is almost double the figure for the rest of the United States. The number of adults who use marijuana has been increasing gradually since legalization.

Now, the battle between those who support legalization and their detractors is centred on whether the increased consumption of marijuana is being harmful to health. It is a very consistent question for which Andrew Monte, a doctor specializing in medical toxicology and emergencies and a researcher at the University of the Hospital of Colorado, is at the forefront: he is dedicated to trying to decipher what the numbers say.