ROCK SPRINGS — Marijuana decriminalization was a hot topic for the Rock Springs City Council Tuesday night and one group aimed to educate the Council of a potential dark side to decriminalization.
Along with comments made by residents in support of decriminalization, they also heard statistics related to marijuana use by the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police (WASCOP). The association is a group that represents Wyoming’s law enforcement agencies to local, state, and federal groups.
Rhea Parsons, the Prevention and Education Project Director for the association, told the Council she was contacted by Rock Springs Police Chief Bill Erspamer to speak with the group, saying the association is taking an educational approach with the presentation.
She said another concern about marijuana decriminalization is under the current laws, possession of marijuana appears on a person’s criminal record, however Parsons said people can have those convictions expunged from their records. She also said criminal charges can be a tool to get people help to fight their addiction. There are programs aimed at helping people facing criminal charges and suffering from addiction including the Treatment Court of Sweetwater County.
She also said speaking about decriminalization tends to lead down a path of eventual legalization of recreational use, which may have impacts on youth who wouldn’t be allowed to use marijuana in the first place.
“We understand that by decriminalizing, we’re actually targeting adults, but an unintended consequence of that tends to impact youth,” she said.
Using statistics pulled from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Parson said an estimated 17% of youth who use marijuana develop a use disorder, with those who begin using before age 16 being 2.7 times more likely to develop a use disorder. Statistics linking decriminalization and legalization with increased youth access were shared as well, including data from a study suggesting that vaping CBD amongst teenagers is increasing, with 14.8% of high school seniors reporting having vaped with a cannabis product.
Parsons said there are higher use rates for alcohol and tobacco amongst youth, but said once marijuana and products containing THC are legalized, the youth usage rates will increase as well.
“That’s always my argument … whenever it’s legal and available, use rates are just going to go up,” she said.
Other statistics she cited include information from the CDC, stating that marijuana is the second most-cited substance associated with driving under the influence of a substance. Further statistics she cited from WASCOP states 15.6% of arrests for DUI were the result of marijuana use.
The full slide slideshow presentation can be found here.