District attorneys from across the nation recently backed a position statement that declares that marijuana legalization has increased access by children and that supports federal enforcement.
The perspective – ironically released by the National District Attorneys Association on April 20, the 420 day of marijuana celebration – could help guide policy direction by the Trump administration, which has signaled a possible crackdown.
“Legalization of marijuana for purported medicinal and recreational purposes has increased access by children. For all of these reasons, it is vitally important to do all we can to prevent access to marijuana by youth in America. Their health, safety and welfare demand no less,” the perspective states.
It suggests that “marijuana for medical use and recreational use clearly sends a message to youth that marijuana is not dangerous and increases youth access to marijuana.” The opinion goes on to say that alcohol is different because “alcohol use does not cause the same type of permanent changes to teens’ ability to concentrate and learn that marijuana does.”
The perspective cites “scientific studies” that show cannabis can be addictive, especially for children, and initial evidence of child hospitalizations due to “unintended exposure to marijuana.”
On federal enforcement, the NDAA white paper states that there should be a consistent application of federal law across the nation “to maintain respect for the rule of law.”
The statement has split Colorado district attorneys, especially on the issue of impacts to children. In Colorado, the experience has been the opposite. The latest Healthy Kids Colorado Survey from 2015 found that teen cannabis use has not increased since legalization.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, in February on national television reiterated those statistics.
“We didn’t see a spike in teenage use, if anything it’s come down in the last year, and we’re getting anecdotal reports of less drug dealers,” Hickenlooper said on “Meet the Press.”
It’s a thorny subject for Colorado prosecutors, where legalization has often left district attorneys in an uncomfortable situation. While cannabis is legal in Colorado, it remains illegal on the federal level and in many states.
Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys Council, was one of four people from Colorado on a policy group along with prosecutors from other states with “positions all over the spectrum,” he said.
“Nowhere does that document say an individual office or any state organization takes a specific position,” Raynes said.
Raynes said he finds the NDAA statements to be “innocuous and general in nature.”
“The only other statement one could make is that federal drug policy should be applied inconsistently across the nation,” Raynes said. “That would be absurd.”
But Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett, who leans to the left on criminal justice reform and who sat on the NDAA panel, took issue with the perspective of the association. He said the association is “dominated” by conservative prosecutors from the rural South.
“They don’t tend to be people on the cutting edge of criminal justice reform,” Garnett said.
He added that his participation on the working group was “pretty painful.” Prosecutors wanted to send a letter to Hickenlooper demanding that he close down all legal marijuana businesses in Colorado. The governor would not have even had the authority to make such a move.
“If anything, use is going down by children,” Garnett said, adding that NDAA is a conservative group without a lot of experience in the regulated legalized marijuana industry.
“There’s a lot of urban myths out there about what’s going on in Colorado from people who don’t really know, and some of that is promulgated by the DEA and the prohibition groups who are funded pretty heavily to continue marijuana prohibition, They tend, on occasion, to distort the reality of what’s going on in Colorado.”
Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the perspective appears to force an anti-marijuana message.
“The report looks suspiciously like the facts section of an anti-marijuana advocacy site,” Tvert said.
“These district attorneys are clearly out of step with most voters in this country, and they’re struggling to keep up with changing times. This group did not even consider the actual evidence of what’s happening in states like Colorado where marijuana is successfully being regulated.”