Colorado Schools Near Pot Shops Receive Major Funding For Drug Education

By Kelly Burch 09/07/17

Recreational pot sales are helping to fund the drug prevention initiative. 

a classroom full of kids

In Colorado, the State Board of Education is releasing $9.2 million from recreational pot sales to schools that are in the vicinity of marijuana businesses, in hopes of keeping cannabis out of kids' hands. 

“It’s an interesting life we are in right now,” Ellen Kelty, Denver Public School’s interim director of student equity and opportunity, told The Denver Post. “But anything we can do to eliminate depression and other things that cause substance abuse is a step forward. We just want to make sure kids make smarter choices.”

Last year Colorado received nearly $200 million in revenue from sales of recreational and medical marijuana—a significant portion of which is being used to fund education and drug prevention.

This grant will fund evidence-based programs designed to curb the underage use of marijuana. Although marijuana is legal for people who are 21 or older, the Colorado Department of Education says that legalization has been associated with an increase in the underage use of marijuana. However, a January report by the Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee found that daily rates of marijuana use among teens in Colorado has been steady since 2005. 

Nonetheless, there is growing concern about the ways that legalization of recreational weed might affect use among teens. “The lines have definitely been blurred,” said Jon Widmier, director of student services for the Jefferson County School District in Colorado. “There is more of a cultural acceptance of marijuana use.”

Because of that, this grant money will be used to increase the number of school nurses in schools that are located near marijuana businesses. 

School officials say they will use the funds to hire mental health professionals in hopes that early intervention for students as young as elementary school will decrease the likelihood of the children developing depression or substance use issues. 

“We and other school health professionals are in a unique position in our schools in that we see these kids every day and we can educate, assess and assist them with substance abuse or behavioral health issues,” said Rhonda Valdez, a high school nurse in Colorado. “We can help keep kids from walking through that door that can lead to bad things.”

People who work with kids in Colorado say that the prevention effort is much-needed. “There is a growing need for this type of service in our schools, and we are trying to get ahead of it,” Widmier said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.