Protect Our Kids, Vote No on 64

As a middle and high school English teacher for six years, I'm very concerned about the push to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Colorado. I have witnessed first-hand how the effects of this drug have harmed my students. I can think of one boy in particular (a senior named "Patrick") who started the school year drug-free.

He had been a bright, friendly young man, but feeling the pressures of his last year in high school, he made the choice to start smoking marijuana. Two months later, his grades started slipping, he began ditching my class, and when he did show, he was zoned out and was unable to focus at all. He could not follow along with our in-class reading, and needed me to repeat any questions directed towards him. My heart ached as I saw him slowly deteriorate.

"Patrick" is why I am voting No on Amendment 64. Amendment 64 would amend Colorado's constitution and make us the first and only state to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.

The actual proposal that citizens will be looking at when they vote doesn't say anything about "regulating marijuana like alcohol," as proponents would have you believe. What it does say is that Amendment 64 would make it legal for anyone 21 years and older to possess and consume up to one ounce of marijuana (the equivalent of 60 joints); and would permit opening marijuana retail stores, growing facilities, manufacturing facilities and testing facilities in communities across the state.

This should give us all pause. Quite simply, more pot means more pot -- and more availability to children. There are serious problems with allowing unlimited supplies of marijuana to be sold for recreational use in Colorado, especially when it comes to kids. Unfortunately, my story of "Patrick" is not unusual. I witnessed many student users whose grades declined, whose personal relationships suffered, and whose physical health became obviously weakened.

As a teacher, I know that pot directly affects a student's learning ability and it has both short-term and long-term consequences. In the short-term, from immediate effects up to 20 days after, students' memories become impaired, they become less attentive, and they become less motivated. Because the brain is still developing until age 25, marijuana use can cause permanent changes in brain structure that slows learning ability.

We do not need to compound the problems Colorado kids are already having with drugs, especially at-risk kids. According to an investigation reported by EdNews Colorado, data from Colorado schools shows suspensions for drug violations in Colorado schools rose 45 percent between 2007-08 and 2010-11, while expulsions for drug violations increased 35 percent and referrals to police increased 17 percent.

The Adams County Youth Initiative released a study earlier this year showing nearly 28 percent of high school students in Adams County have used marijuana at least once in the past 30 days. Furthermore, when asked "how many days do you think a typical student at their school used marijuana," nearly 40 percent of middle school students and almost three-fourths of high school students thought their fellow students used marijuana at least once in the past month. All these statistics indicate there is already a problem with marijuana use with children, and Amendment 64 will only increase those numbers.

Those of us on the front lines -- parents and teachers -- are opposed to Amendment 64 because we understand how hard it is for kids to get ahead these days and how legalizing marijuana for recreational use could make it even harder, especially for at-risk kids. This isn't a philosophical difference; it's a real world concern about pot's effects on our children, children like "Patrick."

Please vote NO on Amendment 64.