Colorado students who commit marijuana offenses will have a new force to contend with: Big Brother.
The state has started tracking each cannabis violation committed by students within the public school system. The program is part of a new extension of a 2012 law that requires police and district attorneys to collect data on punishment for minor infractions – specifically, whether students are arrested or ticketed when they should be punished with simple administrative discipline.
Officials in Colorado want to know what effect legal cannabis has had on schoolchildren since its inception. Some schools have already said they’ve witnessed an uptick in marijuana offenses while other schools say they’ve seen no change.
Voters legalized cannabis in Colorado in 2012, while voters in Washington State did the same. Two other states, Alaska and Oregon, followed suit in 2014, as did the District of Columbia.
Booming marijuana market
Colorado’s retail marijuana market has been in business for 18 months, and all indications so far are positive. The state has raked in hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it going to government coffers, and there have been only scattered problems.
Schools were already tracking all underage drug crimes and offenses, but they hadn’t yet separated out data for cannabis violations. Lawmakers said they want a better statistical grasp on how kids are interacting with marijuana.
“I think we need to get an accurate picture of what our trends are at our schools, what sort of impact legalization has had on our kids,” said GOP state Rep. Polly Lawrence.
The new policy passed the Colorado Legislature earlier this spring and was signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, in June.
Washington employs a similar tracking system
Washington State already has a similar tracking program in place. The state has tracked suspensions and expulsions for marijuana offenses since the 2013-14 school year. During that period, 4,116 students were suspended for cannabis and 265 were expelled.
But the program in Washington is too new for comparison; there are no data available yet from the 2014-15 school year. Other indications, though, suggest legalization has done little to drive up marijuana abuse by teens.
Recent studies have found that changing laws and changing attitudes about marijuana have not led to a corresponding increase in drug use by minors. That conclusion includes states where cannabis is legal and states where it is still banned.
The new program could prove difficult to enact at a practical level, however. While district attorneys have completed their tracking requirements under the 2012 law, police agencies have lagged, in part because law enforcement is poorly equipped to analyze social trends.
“Law enforcement agencies are actually law enforcement agencies,” said Chris Johnson, executive director of the County Sheriffs of Colorado. “We’re not statistical arms of the government.”
The first report, due Aug. 1, will be retroactive, covering both of the last two school years, from 2013 to 2015. Future reports will be filed annually and will be posted online in April.