Marijuana is by far the No. 1 cause of student expulsions from Colorado public schools

Pot expulsions triple number for alcohol, weapons

DENVER - New state numbers show marijuana is the number one reason students are being kicked out of Colorado public schools -- and pot expulsions dwarf all other causes, like alcohol, disobedience and weapons violations.

In 2012-2013, 230 public school students were expelled for marijuana -- or 32 percent of the 720 total kids removed from schools that year, according the Colorado Department of Education. It was the first year that schools officials separated marijuana from other drugs in statistics quantifying the types of violations leading to expulsion.

Marijuana expulsions were more than double the figure for the second highest cause for expulsion -- detrimental behavior. And pot expulsions were more than triple the numbers for disobedience, weapons, alcohol and all other drug violations.

Educators worry that if more students are being kicked out of school for marijuana, more teens are likely using the drug.

This raises another question: Is legalization of marijuana in Colorado -- for both medical and recreational uses -- making pot more accessible to teens?

"We definitely see it a lot more at school," said 15-year-old Briana Major, a sophomore at East High School in Denver.

Where do students find marijuana?

"Just about everywhere," said Brennan Link, a 16-year-old junior at East High.

There's no denying pot has and always will be available to teens.

But has it become more accessible to minors since the 2010 state regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries and the 2012 vote to legalize recreational marijuana?

"I don't think most parents are handing it to their kids. I think it's more a case of it's available, so kids are taking it," said Christine Harms, director of the Colorado School Safety Resource Center.

Recreational marijuana remains illegal for people under age 21 in Colorado.

But here's what teens we spoke with say their peers think about the whole marijuana issue.

"They think that since it is legal, that even if they're not of the age that it's legal. They can still do it," Major said.

That's what has educators concerned.

A state chart tracking a 12-year trend for public school suspensions and expulsions for all drugs shows such disciplinary actions spiked from just under 4,000 in 2008-2009 to more than 5,000 in 2009-2010. The trend line dipped slightly below 5,000 drug-related disciplinary actions in 2012-2013.   

The jump occurred during the gradual movement toward decriminalizing marijuana in Colorado.    

"I think students are getting the impression that (marijuana) is safe for them," said Harms. But she cautions that research shows marijuana use is destructive to adolescent brain development.

Are teens worried about the negative effects of marijuana use?

"Honestly, I don't know enough about it," said Link. "It's probably like fast food. If you do it once a month, it's probably okay."