Update below: A National Institute on Drug Abuse study showing pot use up among all grades surveyed, with eighth grade taking the largest leap, prompted strong words from Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, an opponent of MMJ dispensaries who blames their prevalence for much of the rise in the state. Less alarmed is pot legalization advocate Mason Tvert, who believes "our attorney general has more pressing things to worry about than scaring people about marijuana."
In the press release from the AG's office, on view in its entirety below, Suthers says, "These increases in youth drug use are being fueled by the increasing accessibility and acceptability of marijuana use. Marijuana use can have grave detrimental effects on the developing minds and behavior of teens. This report highlights one of the side effects of the increasing social acceptance of medical marijuana and the ramifications of its widespread use."
Suthers adds: "Increased marijuana use among youth has serious ramifications for the education of our children and numerous other important issues that could compromise Colorado's future. Although the legislature has chosen to legitimize dispensaries beyond what the voters approved in 2000, I would encourage policymakers to continue to consider and, if necessary, revisit this issue as more and more data reveals the effects of marijuana proliferation and use."
To Tvert, these comments represent a dereliction of duty on Suthers's part.
"His job is not to be injecting himself into the media to discuss a subject that he has no involvement in," says Tvert, who issued a press release of his own about the NIDA study also available below. "He's supposed to be enforcing laws on behalf of the state and representing the state's interests when it comes to legal issues. So I have to wonder why our attorney general is spending so much time worrying about something that's not in the scope of his position. But more importantly, I think this is just another example of a bigoted, anti-marijuana elected official trying to scare people and instill fears surrounding marijuana.
"Obviously, the attorney general has not discussed the proliferation and abuse of prescription drugs in the State of Colorado," he continues. "This is one of a handful of states where prescription drug deaths outnumber traffic accidents as the number one cause of accidental death. Literally, the abuse of prescription drugs has killed more people in this state than anything else when it comes to accidents -- and marijuana has never killed a single human being in the history of the world. Yet our attorney general has done nothing to address the abuse of prescription drugs, but he's spent countless hours making sure people with cancer and AIDS and other conditions have to jump through hoops in order to get their relatively benign medication."
Is Tvert celebrating the rising rate of marijuana use among young people? Not quite -- but neither is he mourning it in quite the same way Suthers does.
"No one wants teenagers to use alcohol or marijuana," he maintains. "We all want young people to remain quote-unquote drug free, However, this study shows what we already know to be true, which is that young people are going to use these substances. There's no stopping it -- and the fact that more of them are starting to use a less harmful substance than alcohol is good news. You could even call it a silver lining -- which makes it even more unfortunate that this type of research is being used for political gain and as a scare tactic."
Update, 12:38 p.m.: Colorado Attorney General's Office spokesman Mike Saccone takes issue with one of marijuana advocate Mason Tvert's assertions published above. "To say that we've not discussed the abuse of prescription drugs in the State of Colorado is a gross misstatement," he says. He points to a September prescription-drug take-back staged in conjunction with the Drug Enforcement Administration, during which "we collected nearly five tons of prescription controlled substances." Thanks to this success, Saccone says additional take-backs are in the planning stage.
Page down to read AG office information about the September event, following its message -- and one from SAFER (Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation), Tvert's organization -- about the NIDA study.
Colorado Attorney General's Office press release about the NIDA study:
Attorney General highlights national report showing increases in youth drug use attributable to higher marijuana consumption
DENVER -- Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said today that a new report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse points to a disturbing rise in drug use among youth, fueled primarily by increases in marijuana use.
According to the 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey, the percentage of 8th graders using illicit substances rose to 16 percent from 14.5 percent the previous year. The National Institute on Drug Abuse attributed this spike and other increases in drug-usage rates among other demographics to increased marijuana use.
"These increases in youth drug use are being fueled by the increasing accessibility and acceptability of marijuana use," Suthers said. "Marijuana use can have grave detrimental effects on the developing minds and behavior of teens. This report highlights one of the side effects of the increasing social acceptance of medical marijuana and the ramifications of its widespread use."
According to the report, daily marijuana use among:
• 8th graders rose to 1.2 percent in 2010, up from 1 percent the previous year; • 10th graders rose to 3.3 percent in 2010, up from 2.8 percent the previous year; and, • 12th graders rose to 6.1 percent in 2010, up from 5.2 percent the previous year.
"These high rates of marijuana use during the teen and pre-teen years, when the brain continues to develop, place our young people at particular risk," Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a statement accompanying the report. "Not only does marijuana affect learning, judgment and motor skills, but research tells us that about one in six people who start using it as adolescents become addicted.
The Monitoring the Future Survey also revealed significant declines among 10th and 12th grader in the perceived dangers of marijuana use and the disapproval of other marijuana users.
"We should examine the extent to which the debate over medical marijuana and marijuana legalization for adults is affecting teens' perceptions of risk," Volkow said. "We must also find better ways to communicate to teens that marijuana use can harm their short-term performance as well as their long-term potential."
"The increases in youth drug use reflected in the Monitoring the Future Study are disappointing," Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said of the survey results. "Mixed messages about drug legalization, particularly marijuana, may be to blame. Such messages certainly don't help parents who are trying to prevent kids from using drugs."
Suthers said the findings of the national survey underline recent Colorado Department of Education data that showed a spike in the number of drug-related expulsions across the state at the same time medical marijuana because widely accessible.
"Increased marijuana use among youth has serious ramifications for the education of our children and numerous other important issues that could compromise Colorado's future," Suthers said. "Although the legislature has chosen to legitimize dispensaries beyond what the voters approved in 2000, I would encourage policymakers to continue to consider and, if necessary, revisit this issue as more and more data reveals the effects of marijuana proliferation and use."
SAFER press release about NIDA study:
Teen Marijuana Use Up, Alcohol Use Down -- A Good Thing?
More teens making "a safer choice," says national organization that highlights relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol
DENVER -- Marijuana use is up and alcohol use is down amongst America's teens, who now perceive less risk surrounding marijuana and more risk surrounding alcohol, according to the annual Monitoring the Future survey released today by the National Institutes of Health.
Although the U.S. Drug Czar believes "we should be very concerned about these marijuana numbers," they might actually be indicative of progress, according to Denver-based Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), a national organization working to educate the public about the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol.
"We would all like teens to remain drug free," said Mason Tvert, executive director of SAFER and a coauthor of Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink? "But if they are going to use an intoxicating substance, they pose far less harm to themselves and to others if they choose to use marijuana instead of alcohol.
"Alcohol contributes to overdose deaths, significant long-term health problems, serious injuries, and violent crimes, whereas marijuana has never been found to contribute to such problems," Tvert said. "Teens choosing to use marijuana instead of alcohol are in fact making a safer choice."
For more information on the 2010 Monitoring the Future survey visit http://monitoringthefuture.org/data/10data.html#2010data-drugs
Colorado Attorney General's Office releases about September take-back event:
Attorney General joins with DEA, local law enforcement to announces statewide prescription drug take-back events
DENVER -- Colorado Attorney General John Suthers announced today that local law enforcement from across Colorado will partner with the Drug Enforcement Administration to hold a statewide prescription drug take-back day on Saturday, Sept. 25 at sites across the state.
"Prescription drug abuse is one of Colorado's fastest growing problems," Suthers said. "Although prescription medication provides relief to tens of thousands of Coloradans every day, these drugs are often hard to properly dispose of and readily available to youth and others to abuse. Take-back programs, such as these, will help local and federal law enforcement take a significant amount of the supply of potent and dangerous controlled substances off our streets."
Colorado youth in particular are abusing prescription drugs at an alarming rate. According to statistics from the Colorado Division of Behavioral Health and other state agencies, Coloradans ages 24 and younger comprised 20 percent of all admissions to Colorado drug treatment facilities to treat addictions to opioids, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
"By participating in the first-ever National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, we will reduce the risk of accidental poisoning, misuse and abuse of prescription drugs," said Jeffrey D. Sweetin, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA's Rocky Mountain Division. "We encourage everyone to take advantage of this program, which will make our homes and communities a safer place to live."
The more than 90 sites across the state range from Craig to La Junta and Yuma to Cortez and cover every major city and metropolitan area in the state. The participating agencies and take-back sites and the times they will accept controlled substances can be found at www.dea.gov.
Consumers should not simply throw away or flush controlled substances. Often the chemicals contained in these drugs can harm wildlife or the environment. Drugs left in trash bins or by the curb also can be stolen and abused. Federal law requires that controlled substances be accepted by a certified peace officer. Controlled substances, unlike antibiotics and non-controlled prescription medications, cannot be taken back by pharmacies or doctors offices.
Attorney General announces that local law enforcement, DEA collected nearly five tons of drugs as part of take-back events
DENVER -- Colorado Attorney General John Suthers announced today that local law enforcement in cooperation with the Drug Enforcement Administration took back 9,257.8 pounds of prescription controlled substances from Coloradans on Sept. 25 as part of a statewide take-back event.
"I was pleased to learn that Colorado collected nearly five tons of prescription medication last weekend," Suthers said. "During my time at a take-back location in Colorado Springs, I watched as dozens of local residents came in to hand over their leftover prescription drugs. The number of people that participated and the amount of drugs they turned over to local police left me convinced that we need to make these take-back events a regular occurrence."
Suthers thanked the DEA for the invaluable role they played planning and coordinating each take-back event across Colorado. Suthers also thanked the more than 90 local law enforcement agencies that made the statewide take-back event such a resounding success.
"The unprecedented support received from the public and our community partners has, without question, made our homes and communities a safer place to live," said DEA Rocky Mountain Division Acting Special Agent in Charge Kevin R. Merrill. "We all have benefited by participating in this life saving program."
The Office of the Attorney General plans to work with the DEA and local law enforcement to make prescription drug take-back days a regularly scheduled event in Colorado.
More from our Marijuana archive: "Top 25 marijuana stories in Colorado in 2010: The year in weed."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.