Colorado’s recent legalization of marijuana has been widely publicized across the country. As a criminal defense attorney in Colorado, I’ve always felt that drug abuse should not be penalized but treated as a health problem. However, with the recent legalization comes the follow up question of what impact will Colorado’s legalization of marijuana have on Colorado’s adolescents. Will this increase the use of marijuana among our youth? And if so, what kind of new problems, if any, will result from such increase. There has been much debate on whether or not legalizing marijuana will harm today’s youth. Advocates for legalizing marijuana cite studies that indicate its medicinal value for many illnesses and conditions. They also accurately point out that there has been no instance of anyone ever dying from marijuana use. However, on March 3, 2014, NPR ran a story on marijuana’s impact on development of the brain in youth.
In the article, the Director of the Brain Imaging and Neuropsychology Lab at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Krista Lisdahl, indicated that the adolescent brain is still developing and goes through a process of streamlining where the brain is getting rid of connections that were not really used, making the brain more fast and efficient. She indicated that teenagers that use Cannabis once a week or more actually changes the structure of the brain that deals with memory and problem solving and this “could” affect cognition and academic performance. According to Lisdahl, chronic marijuana-using teens do have on average one grade point lower than their matched peers that don’t smoke pot. Some research also indicates that those youth who use marijuana have a lower IQ compared to those who never have used marijuana. The amount of marijuana used also reportedly made a difference in the amount of drop in IQ. Finally, according to research cited in the article, adults who smoked marijuana as a teenager fared worse in tests of memory and decision making compared to adults who hadn’t smoked pot. Marijuana advocates would respond that the studies are small and not well designed. They would also point to studies that have contrary results and indicate that the harmful effects of alcohol and prescription drug use on youth are far worse.
Whatever side of the fence you are on, marijuana is a mind altering substance that currently is illegal to use under the age of 21 in Colorado. If you have been charged with a marijuana offense or any drug offense, it is important to consult with a criminal defense attorney who is knowledgeable about Colorado’s drug laws and what are the negative repercussions from having a drug conviction.