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Here's what legal marijuana could mean for Grand Rapids Public Schools

Marijuana plant
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Marijuana plant

Legalizing marijuana could have unintended consequences for public schools in Michigan.

Earlier this month, Michigan residents voted to pass a ballot proposal to legalize marijuana for people 21 and older.

Larry Johnson, executive director of public safety for Grand Rapids Public Schools, says the district looked at what happened in Colorado, which legalized marijuana for people 21 and older in 2012.

Johnson says some school districts there saw an increase in students possessing and selling marijuana. He says the district thinks similar issues could arise in Michigan. 

“Because once the states legalize marijuana, it made it a little bit more accessible to underage young people,” Johnson said.

A 2016 study from the Drug Policy Administration found the opposite to be true in regards to accessibility to marijuana.

The study, which looked at post-legalization in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Washington D.C. and Alaska, found that preliminary data showed legalization had “little to no impact on the overall rate of youth use of marijuana.”

The same study also found that in Colorado, the total number of marijuana arrests decreased by 46% between 2012 and 2014

“The number of court filings declined 81% between 2012 and 2015, from 10,340 to 1,954, with felony marijuana filings declining by 45%,” the study said.

Johnson says GRPS has been talking to students and parents about the health issues of marijuana. He says they began taking these steps when the city of Grand Rapids decriminalized marijuana in 2012.

“We did not want marijuana to become a reason that kids came to school and end up with a criminal record, and so we were very cautious in how we moved forward trying to follow what was going on in the city,” he said.

Johnson did not clarify which studies from Colorado or other states that have already legalized marijuana led the district to believe it could affect the number of arrests they see.

Johnson says the upcoming legalization of marijuana does not change how Grand Rapids Public Schools views possession or use on school property. It is still not allowed by students, faculty or anyone else.

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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