Professionals weigh in on a decade of legal Recreational Marijuana in Colorado

Professionals weigh in on a decade of legal recreational marijuana in Colorado

Ten years have passed since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, a decision that has brought significant changes to the state. 

Opinions on the impacts of this legislation vary, from law enforcement to recovery specialists and those in the marijuana industry.

“I think a problem exists,” Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said. 

He equated the challenges with marijuana to those posed by alcohol and other drugs. Vallario pointed to an increase in marijuana usage among youths as a pressing concern. 

“Following its legalization, we almost immediately started seeing marijuana in much younger levels and even in grade schools,” Vallario said.

Despite these concerns, Vallario acknowledged that marijuana’s effects are generally more subdued compared to stimulants like fentanyl or cocaine. 

“It’s more depressing, so we don’t see the radical behavior like we would with fentanyl or cocaine, but we have definitely viewed it as a gateway drug,” he said. 

Vallario also highlighted the legal challenges law enforcement faces, balancing between state legality and federal illegality.

The issue of driving under the influence presents a unique challenge. Vallario noted that in Colorado, the charge for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, legal or illegal, is the same. 

“Many times we’ll stop people for their driving behavior, and there might be multiple substances on board in their system,” Vallario said, adding that it’s rare to charge someone solely for driving under the influence of marijuana, and that other substances typically accompany the material when drivers are pulled over.

On the treatment front, recovery coach Vanessa Lane offered a different perspective. 

“Everybody has their own drug of choice,” Lane said.

The long-time recovery coach sees marijuana as one substance among many that people might struggle with. Lane noted the increased potency of marijuana today compared to a decade ago, adding to the complexity of the issue.

Lane also addressed the long-held view of marijuana as a gateway drug.

“I know individuals that started smoking weed and hated it, and then later on in life went to other drugs,” she said. She remains neutral on whether marijuana is good or bad, however, focusing instead on individual struggles and needs.

In the marijuana industry, perspectives differ. Daniel Price, a budtender at The Green Joint in Glenwood Springs, views marijuana’s legalization positively. 

“It’s definitely helped,” Price said, citing benefits for people with muscle disorders, sleep issues and pain.

Price shared his personal experience of using marijuana for headaches due to numerous concussions.

Price said he also sees a shift toward recreational use, citing many users who look to purchase marijuana for medical benefits but don’t have the medical card required to do so, and therefore cite their purchase as recreational.

“A lot of people are coming in here for help,” Price said. “It has a lot of medical benefits, and I think that’s one of the bigger changes I have seen as a budtender. People are coming to help with pain, or sleep, and as a budtender, we are trying to point those people in the right direction.”

Price predicts that as more states legalize marijuana, the industry in Colorado might see changes, with fewer tourists visiting specifically for marijuana.

“We have started to see it for the past couple years,” Price said. “It’s a growing industry throughout the country. People are starting to not need to travel to Colorado for this reason anymore.”

As the use of marijuana continues to gain legality throughout the United States, Colorado’s introduction of the substance in 2014 has led to the legalization in 24 of the United States’ 50 states. Colorado’s initiation at the start of the new year in 2014 has paved a path for both recreational and medical use of marijuana for the foreseeable future.

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Region: Colorado

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