Colorado Campaigns Warn Residents About Dangers of Legalized Pot

By Staff | May 21, 2015 | 3:25pm EDT
Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana for the State of Colorado, speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on May 20, 2015. -- Since Colorado voters legalized marijuana, the state has found it necessary to launch public health campaigns to warn residents of the possible harmful effects of using the drug.


In November 2000, 54 percent of Colorado residents voted in favor of Amendment 20, which allowed the use of marijuana for medical reasons. In November 2012, 54 percent of Coloradans again voted in favor of  legalizing marijuana, this time for recreational use.


But because of the widespread use of marijuana in Colorado, and general ignorance concerning the appropriate use of the drug, state officials say there is a need to educate people on the legal and medical dangers of smoking pot.


The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) started a campaign entitled “Get High, Get a DUI” after finding that slightly more than 40 percent of the state population thought it was acceptable to drive while under the influence of marijuana.


CDOT’s website lists a significant increase in drug-related accidents since 2008. In 2008, 10.1 percent of drivers involved in accidents were found to be drug-impaired. By 2013, that figure had risen to 14.2 percent.


Increased drug use has resulted in higher highway fatalities. In 2008, 16.2 percent of  all traffic fatalities involved a drugged driver. In 2013, 21.4 percent of all fatal accidents were drug-related. Although only 5.7 percent of the drivers involved in fatal wrecks tested positive for cannabis that year, recreational marijuana was not available in Colorado retail shops until Jan. 1, 2014.


“We have a ‘Good to Know Campaign’,” Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for the state, said at a conference entitled “Legalized Marijuana in the United States: Resulting Policy Implications,” which took place on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. “There’s a lot people don’t know.”


Freedman said the state surveyed residents and learned that many are not aware that there are legal restrictions for using marijuana. “People don’t know that you’re not allowed to smoke in public,” he said, adding that only about a quarter of the population is aware of this limitation.


“Everybody else thinks the legal smoking age is 18. You might give marijuana to a 19-year-old. That’s a felony,” he pointed out.


The “Good to Know Campaign” takes a positive educational approach, reminding people that they must be 21 years of age to use the drug, and that the only acceptable place for its use is at home. Smoking pot in public, including a car, is illegal. So is taking it out of state, since possession of marijuana is still illegal under federal law.


An animated video featured on the “Good to Know Colorado” website uses quips such as “For those underage, it’s just not okay. Their brains are still growing, so keep it away” to relay the warning message that marijuana poses health risks to youngsters, particularly teenagers.


Freedman has been warning youth in Colorado that using marijuana can adversely affect them. “This can get in the way of your hopes and dreams. This has been shown to have an effect on a developing brain,” he said.


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that marijuana use can lead to “compulsive drug seeking and use despite negative consequences and by long-lasting changes in the brain.” The NIH explains that long-term effects of the drug include mental health problems and chronic respiratory infections.


Related: Del. Holmes Norton on Marijuana: 'De Facto Legal for Most Americans'


Related: Judiciary Chairman: State Laws Legalizing Marijuana Are Unconstitutional


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