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Health department hopes education programs lead to safe, controlled marijuana use

Posted at 11:35 AM, Jun 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-24 20:19:43-04

DENVER – Dr. Larry Wolk, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE, admits his own fears about what would happen in Colorado following the legalization of recreational marijuana haven’t come true.

“I’m a pediatrician, parent, public health guy, so I came in with own biases thinking we’re going to see increased use among adults and kids. We haven’t seen an increase amongst adults or kids,” he told Anne Trujillo on this weekend’s Politics Unplugged

Wolk says we haven’t seen an overall increase in people driving under the influence of marijuana. He says school dropout rates related to marijuana and other drugs have dropped as have drug-related school suspensions.

“We did a bit of an increase in hospitalizations and emergency room visits related to marijuana, but a lot of that was being driven by out-of-staters, people who weren’t exposed to the public education efforts that everybody who lives here gets exposed to almost on a daily basis,” Dr. Wolk said.

The CDPHE is launching new campaigns this month to help educate people about safe and proper use of marijuana that are part of the department’s Responsibility Grows Here education effort. The Trusted Adults campaign focuses on the influence parents, teachers and other adults can have on children when it comes to marijuana use. Health department surveys have found that kids are four times less likely to use marijuana when they have parents who feel using it is wrong. 

The other new effort focuses on marijuana use by mothers who are pregnant or breastfeeding.  Researchers have found that marijuana use during pregnancy or breastfeeding, regardless of the level, can have lasting effects on lifelong health and learning of kids.

Dr. Wolk says the CDPHE has been criticized by some people for not flat-out campaigning against marijuana use. 

“I think, initially, there were some critics that thought we were a little too friendly in our approach because maybe in some way we were trying to encourage people to use,” he said. “When really, what we’re trying to say is say, ‘look, if you’re going to try to use marijuana, we want to make sure you’re aware of the issue around health and safety’ and things like that.”

Politics Unplugged airs Sundays at 4:30 a.m. and 4 p.m/ on Denver7 and noon on K3-KCDO.