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For Honors Student, Medical Marijuana Sparked Shift Toward Crime

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If a friend hadn’t turned him over to cops in November, 15-year-old Charles would most likely still be dealing medical marijuana.

As it is, the Roaring Fork High School sophomore has just completed a stint in juvenile detention, is back in school and eager to get his life back on track. He’s hoping to join the military after high school, and he knows a drug conviction could scuttle those plans.

“But the DA worked out a deal where, as long as I don’t get in trouble for the next six to eight months, I’ll be fine,” he said. “I’ll be allowed to go in the military.”

Much has changed for the one-time honor student, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that his last name is not used.

A year ago, he’d never smoked pot. But then came the night of the party. Someone offered him a joint and, when he didn’t know what to do with it, showed him. “I took a hit,” he said. “I felt the high. I wasn’t in love with the feeling. But I liked it.”

A week later, the older brother of a friend made Charles an offer. “He told me ‘Hey, if you’re willing to sell for me, I’ll give you money.’ I go ‘All right.’ So he’d go down to the dispensary once or twice a week and get his marijuana, then give it to me and I would distribute it.”

The brother, who is in his 40s, had sold marijuana for decades, he said, but began selling medical marijuana exclusively after obtaining a state-issued registry card for back pain.

“They're really easy to get them around here,” Charles said of the cards. “You can get them for headaches.”

Far from the Front Range population centers, Colorado’s resort communities are dealing with their own medical marijuana dilemmas.

The number of drug-related incidents in the 5,000-student Roaring Fork School District, which includes Glenwood Springs, Basalt and Carbondale, spiked at 61 during the 2009-10 school year, up from 11 the year before. Last year, drug incidents were down to 36.

Other indicators of drug usage have not trended downward.

In 2010-11, the number of teens with marijuana charges referred to Youth Zone, a diversion system for young offenders, was up 58 percent over the year before, said Lori Mueller, program director.

“It could be that judges just decided to send more kids to us,” she said. “It could be that police officers are more focused on stopping the kids smoking marijuana. I don’t want to assume that the only reason is because more kids than ever are smoking pot.”

But whatever the reason, Mueller sees teens’ attitudes toward marijuana changing rapidly.

“Marijuana is no big deal to them,” she said. “And it’s very hard to work with kids who truly believe—or whose parents believe—that marijuana is medicine. If it’s medicine, how can it be wrong? When they see a medical marijuana shop on every other block, and they have friends or parents of friends who have medical marijuana cards, it doesn’t feel to them like there’s anything to worry or be nervous about.”

Based on what referred teens tell her, she said, marijuana seems to be everywhere in the Roaring Fork Valley. Getting it is as easy as helping yourself to the stash your parents or a friend’s parents keep.

Or you could have called Charles, one of the teens referred to Mueller’s program. He would get it for you.

“A kid could call me and say ‘meet me here.’ Or would say ‘I left some money under the front left tire of my dad’s truck.’ And I’d go and get the money and leave the marijuana,” Charles said. “There were unlimited ways for me to distribute it.”

Sometimes his clients asked for marijuana-infused candy or other edibles. But mostly, the smoke-able kind was what they wanted.

It’s certainly the kind he wanted. And he smoked a lot.

“Kids are always looking for something to do, and smoking marijuana is something to do,” he said. “It calms you down, and it’s fun. Most kids won’t refrain from it. But what that leads to—I never got any of my homework done. None of it. I would rather be out with friends. I stopped really caring what people thought about me.”

Charles’ fling with marijuana didn’t last long. He’d only been smoking—and selling—for about six months when he was busted. “A kid told on me,” he said. “His parents found the marijuana and they asked where he got it, and he told them it was me. Three days later, I was getting in a car and police cars pulled up and said ‘Come with us.’ ”

He spent a month in juvenile detention, has been on home detention since before Christmas and went back to school Jan. 23. He’s got a court date in February, but he’s hopeful that his record will eventually be expunged if he can stay clean.

Charles says his days dealing marijuana are behind him— “It’s not worth spending a month in detention to make $20 a day”—but smoking is another thing.

“I have court-appointed (drug tests) for now,” he said. “But it’s so widely available. After I finish those, I’ll try not to use again because I don’t want to go down that road, but I can’t say for sure I’ll be 100 percent clean.”

Charles refused to identify his supplier to police and said he hasn’t talked to him since his arrest. He said he didn’t know of any other students dealing drugs for him.

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