Public perceptions of marijuana have come a long way. Once a symbol of the counterculture, pot has become part of the culture.
In Colorado, it's part of everyday culture.
Colorado has allowed medical marijuana since 2001, but voters amended the state constitution in 2012 to allow private marijuana consumption for adults aged 21 or older. The first-ever stores to sell state-regulated recreational pot opened their doors on Jan. 1, 2014.
The law has raised serious concerns for parents and those working with kids to keep young people away from drugs.
This week on For the Record: Parenting through the pot laws.
We hear three different viewpoints from people who have close contact with kids as they wade through the new world of legalization. (Click on the audio link to hear their full stories.)
Susie Bosley, middle school health teacher, Boulder, Colo.
Bosley remembers the night Amendment 64 passed, legalizing recreational marijuana.
"In a moment of despair, that night that it passed, I even went online and was like, 'Can I do another job now? This is going to be too hard.' "
Tina Thompson, police officer with Aspen, Colo., Police Department
"The message we're really trying to give to these kids is delay, delay, delay. We're not trying to demonize marijuana. We know that our state supports it for over 21, so we just want to let these kids know that the longer they wait, the more developed their brain is and the less likely they will become addicted, or any other harmful effects of marijuana."
Julie Dooley, president, Julie's Natural Edibles, Denver, Colo.
"It's a different kind of conversation than maybe we had with our parents 40 years ago, where it was bad, it was unknown. We didn't know where you got it, where was it grown. My family, they're very respectful of cannabis. They see it as a medicine and they see it as something that can definitely help people in extraordinary ways."
First, honestly, I had no idea there were so many edible pot products out there — chocolate, soda, even potato chips. Sure the law prohibits people under 21 years of age to use marijuana, but the preponderance of these kinds of products would rightfully worry some parents.
Second, Thompson called this generation of teens in Colorado "guinea pigs." It's really unclear how the law will change their marijuana use and what long-term impact that will have.
Finally, students in Colorado are getting inundated with information about pot — marketing messages, prevention messages, conversations with parents. These kids are going to know a whole lot more about pot than other kids around the country because of this law.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. And this is For The Record.
Public perceptions of marijuana have come a long way. Once a symbol of the counterculture, now pot is a part of the culture. In the state of Colorado, it's part of the everyday culture.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS REPORTS)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: History made in Colorado today. Recreational marijuana is now legal.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Recreational use of marijuana now officially legal in the state that gave us "Rocky Mountain High."
MARTIN: Colorado has allowed medical marijuana since 2001, but voters amended the state constitution to allow private marijuana consumption for adults age 21 or older. It's called Amendment 64. And the first-ever stores to sell state-regulated recreational pot threw open their doors January 1, 2014. News satire shows had a field day. And even the real news anchors couldn't help themselves. Here's NBC's Lester Holt and Brian Williams.
(SOUNDBITE OF NBC NEWS)
LESTER HOLT: You know, there are certain things you don't ever expect to see on TV, and one of them is it's been a good night for pot smokers. There were several - there were several initiatives in the ballot.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Try to keep your personal life out of it.
MARTIN: But the new law has raised serious concerns for parents and those working to keep young people away from drugs. For The Record today - parenting through the pot laws.
We're going to hear three different viewpoints on this. First, a parent with an unusual perspective from inside the industry.
JULIE DOOLEY: My name is Julie Dooley and I am a manufacturer of infused products here in Denver, Colo. I'm also a mother of three teenagers. I have been a supporter of the use of cannabis pretty much as long as I can remember.
MARTIN: Dooley has been making medical marijuana since it was legalized. And the new law has just expanded her business opportunities. Because she's been in the pot business so long, she's been talking with her kids about it for a while. So when the law changed...
DOOLEY: It was a much happier conversation. The positive effect that marijuana being legalized in this country will have - that's the conversation that we were having in our house.
OFFICER TINA THOMPSON: There's a real mixed message coming from the media to these kids.
MARTIN: This is Tina Thompson.
THOMPSON: I am a police officer with the Aspen Police Department, assigned to the school district. My title is School Resource Officer. They have a hard time seeing it as, you know, why is this a medicine and it's OK for certain adults, maybe even mom and dad, but it's not OK for me.
MARTIN: So her police department has ramped up its prevention program. In part, she says, because there's a lot of pressure from parents anxious about the new law. The department brings doctors into the schools to talk about the effects of using marijuana. They also bring in former addicts to try to give students a fuller picture of what habitual drug use can do.
THOMPSON: The message we're really trying to give to these kids is just delay, delay, delay. We're not trying to demonize marijuana. We just want to let these kids know that the longer they wait, the more developed their brain is and the less likely they will become addicted, or any of the harmful side effects of marijuana that we know.
MARTIN: Susie Bosley is a middle school health teacher in Boulder.
SUSIE BOSLEY: We're trying to keep enforcing the message that this is not OK for adolescents. We have even more research than we did before to back that up.
MARTIN: Bosley remembers the night the law was approved, making pot legal for recreational use.
BOSLEY: In a moment of despair, that night that it passed, I even went online and was like, can I do another job now? This is going to be too hard.
MARTIN: Hard because pot feels like it's just everywhere now. She says there's a local joke that there are more pot dispensaries than there are Starbucks. In fact, one of the dispensaries is called Starbuds. Bosley says the marketing makes pot seem cool and fun and just not a big deal.
BOSLEY: They sell T-shirts and stickers. So the marketing turns it into a joke.
MARTIN: Another big concern is edible marijuana.
BOSLEY: They imitate brand-name candies - 3 Rastateers, Keef-Kat, Buddahfinger, MunchyWay, sodas, chips. Every food you can imagine is made with THC.
MARTIN: Here's Julie Dooley.
DOOLEY: We've always sold a granola. We've always sold a granola bar and roasted seed mix. And I always infused in cannabutter. It's a healthy morning breakfast. Some people like it just sprinkled on their ice cream for dessert.
MARTIN: Dooley says she is conscious that these are products that might appeal to kids. She has tried to offset that with her packaging.
DOOLEY: It's child resistant upon the first opening - you're familiar with pill bottles from the pharmacy - similar packaging like that.
MARTIN: Even so, police officer Tina Thompson says she has seen cases where young kids have found their parents' pot and ingested themselves. And all the new edible products have made her job more difficult.
THOMPSON: There was a time where, you know, a kid would maybe leave campus and come back and anybody could sort of smell that kid or be able to point at that kid. But now, it's - you know, they may go to step off campus and use a vapor pen that doesn't have any odor and just step back on campus, and that's really hard for teachers to know, so it does make it difficult.
MARTIN: What's clear is that the new drug laws in Colorado have forced kids into some new territory. Health teacher Susie Bosley had a student come to her one day genuinely upset.
BOSLEY: There was no doubt this student had very loving parents. They've been supportive, they've been involved in school. But he said the new thing now is his relatives love to come visit. And everybody sits around in the house and gets high together in front of him.
MARTIN: Officer Tina Thompson sees it in how kids talk about pot now, with a new level of sophistication.
THOMPSON: We like to say there's always our one pot expert in the group. You know, the one kid that's very vocal and reads the High Times.
MARTIN: Julie Dooley's daughter may not read High Times, but she is that kid.
DOOLEY: She's the eighth grader who could tell any of them about it. And she will if they ask, but for the most part, she'd rather not talk about it.
MARTIN: Dooley says her business has also put her daughter in a tough spot. She remembers one incident.
DOOLEY: Boys came up to her and said your mom sells pot, and she must smoke pot all the time. And my daughter stood up and said no she doesn't and she works with cannabis. And there's nothing wrong with that.
MARTIN: Not all kids have such a deep understanding of pot. Many are going to push boundaries and try it, which they did before the new law. It is just more available now. Officer Thompson cites a study by a local prevention group.
THOMPSON: We have seen in the last couple years a trend that puts marijuana use above alcohol, definitely above tobacco, in our Valley.
MARTIN: Tina Thompson thinks about this issue as a police officer, but she is also a parent.
Lastly, I understand that you're a mom?
THOMPSON: Yeah. She's almost two. She'll be two in a couple weeks. Yeah.
MARTIN: Do you think about how this change will create a different kind of - a different kind of childhood for her than the one you had, at least when it comes to pressures around drug use or accessibility to marijuana in particular?
THOMPSON: Yeah. I mean, I think about it all the time. I think for any young kid coming up, young teenagers right now are definitely guinea pigs. And it's sort of scary to think that. You know, in ten years or whenever she's a teenager, our teenagers now will be, you know, in their twenties and thirties and we'll see how it has affected them.
MARTIN: That was Colorado police officer Tina Thompson, middle school health teacher Susie Bosley and pot manufacturer and mother of three, Julie Dooley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.