A school program has been funded by recreational marijuana sales in Colorado to prevent children from using marijuana. It comes with the responsibility of legalizing cannabis and making sure that the adults indulging in recreational marijuana make sure that Colorado’s futures is secure.
Colorado generates massive amounts of tax revenue from the sales of recreational and medical marijuana. The state is pulling in over $100 million each month on average in sales. What else could those tax dollars go to help the people of Colorado?
School nurse Rhonda Valdez is on the front lines of student health at Wheat Ridge High School, treating myriad concerns — flu outbreaks, diabetes, severe allergies, body image issues, football-related concussions.
The job is rewarding and keeps her busy, but the longtime registered nurse and 18-year veteran of Jefferson County Schools is taking on a new role this fall. Valdez is among a vanguard of state-certified school nurses, social workers and counselors hired this year to try to keep marijuana out of the hands of youths.
The new positions are funded by a $9.2 million grant parceled out among 42 school districts and charter schools by the Colorado Department of Education. Money is going to districts and schools that are near legal pot shops and have created evidence-based plans to discourage underage use of marijuana, said Jeremy Meyer, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Education.
The legalization of recreational pot in Colorado in 2014 for anyone age 21 or older increased the likelihood of use by underage residents, the CDE said. Bolstering the number of qualified health care officials, including school nurses, on campuses, where they could work with students inside and outside classrooms, can help stem the tide, the agency reasoned.
“We and other school health professionals are in a unique position in our schools in that we see these kids every day and we can educate, assess and assist them with substance abuse or behavioral health issues,” Valdez said. “We can help keep kids from walking through that door that can lead to bad things.”
The grant money effectively eases the shortage of school nurses to treat all students in many schools.
Each of Colorado’s 630 school nurses is responsible for as many as 6,000 students. Yet the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommends that one school nurse serve no more than 750 general education students.
The grant allows school districts to hire qualified counselors as well. Professionals are needed to administer early, comprehensive intervention that prevents later substance abuse problems, said Jon Widmier, director of student services for the Jefferson County School District.
“There is a growing need for this type of service in our schools, and we are trying to get ahead of it,” Widmier said.
Jeffco Schools received $825,164 through the grant program and will hire six social emotional learning specialists to work at elementary schools and three full-time school nurses, including Valdez. The positions are funded for three years.
Valdez and others involved in the grant project admit their jobs won’t be easy. Legalization of recreational use of marijuana for adults has created an almost casual approach to marijuana use that kids pick up on, they say.
“The lines have definitely been blurred,” Widmier said. “There is more of a cultural acceptance of marijuana use.”
There is little or no evidence that pot use among children has increased since use was legalized for adults. More than 5 percent of high school students in Colorado use marijuana daily or nearly daily, which has been the case at least since 2005, according to a January 2017 report from the state’s Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee.