Marijuana Legalization Amidst a Thriving Recovery Landscape

Marijuana became legal in Colorado on January 1, 2014. At conferences, online, in airports, and on most phone calls, people who don’t live here ask me what I think about it. The funny part is that no one in Colorado talks about it very much at all. My four children haven’t mentioned it and almost none of the students in recovery I work with at the university have either.

I wanted to get the conversation started. So, in preparation for this article, I sought out 10 different students in active recovery to ask how they felt about legalized marijuana. It turned out all were in favor of it, even though none of them use marijuana anymore. Why? As recovering people, they feel a marijuana dispensary is no different than a liquor store. And because there are not nearly as many dispensaries as liquor stores or bars within our city limits, and there is no place in Boulder where marijuana can be smoked publicly, legalization simply hasn’t had an impact on these students (or on anyone else I know in town for that matter).

This is interesting since the few times I have seen national news stories on the subject, our state has been portrayed as nothing but a pot-using green rush. If I didn’t live here and I were only watching those shows, I would have lots of questions for someone in my position too.

As all my fellow Boulderites recognize though: the legalization of marijuana really hasn’t changed anything in our city. Yes, it’s available to people who seek it out. But I don’t know anyone who had a hard time finding the drug when it was illegal in Boulder, or anywhere else in the country. What’s more, I have talked to several minors who report that it is harder to access marijuana now–you need to be 21 with an ID to purchase–than before it was legalized.

Most importantly, and what I want to emphasize is, the legalization of marijuana has had no impact on AIM House or the CUCRC. That’s not a huge surprise given that we extensively drug test at AIM House. But I do and it’s telling that I have not seen an increase in relapse rates among recovering students at the University of Colorado in 2014 either.

I also want to speak briefly to the upside of the legalization of marijuana. For starters, there are fewer illegal dealers now. It’s more controlled. And it will raise an estimated $67MIL in tax revenues for Colorado this year alone. A good chunk of this is earmarked for addiction training programs, and another $27.5 MIL is designated for much needed new school construction. It’s for reasons like these that most political experts agree marijuana will be legal in almost every state in the next 5 years. Colorado is at the forefront, but it is likely coming to your state soon. When it does, let’s hope there won’t be all the national hoopla.

Of course, in fairness, there’s always been national attention on Boulder. This certainly isn’t the first time over the years that we’ve been asked why AIM House is located here. Our answer never changes much. It’s a variation of“why not Boulder?”The notion that this city is only about drinking and drug use is misinformed. I won’t deny that most everything is accessible in our city and that it is no doubt a “party town.” But it’s also so much more.

Consider: for the second year in a row, Boulder was named the “Most Educated City in America” by Forbes magazine based on the percentage of residents with college degrees. There are more physically t people here than in almost any other place on the planet. It was rated the “#1 Sports Town in America” by Outside Magazine and boasts countless year-round recreational activities, including: 200 miles of public hiking and biking trails, approximately 43,000 acres of open space, and the Boulder Creek Path that runs through the middle of town. Anyone who’s ever visited will agree that it’s an exceptionally beautiful place with a plethora of activities and opportunities and a close sense of community.

And that’s not all. Despite the legalization of marijuana, Boulder is in many ways at the center of an evolving recovery landscape that is transforming lives in miraculous ways. Creative Recovery at Madelife on Tuesday nights hosts young people from all transition programs here in Boulder, not just AIM House. If you can, come check out the open mic night on the second Tuesday of every month. It will blow your mind, I promise. Come bowling at CU on Wednesdays or stop by the CUCRC any day. You won’t be questioning me about legal weed. You’ll be asking about the phenomenal number of young people making healthy choices.

Recovery is not just about sobriety. It’s taken on a much larger context in the lives of young adults: recovery from self-destructive behavior like excessive gaming and device addictions, eating disorders, self harm of all sorts, and–yes–chemical dependency. Young people in Boulder and AIM House are moving past the delusions that other people, places, and things are responsible for their happiness and choices. They are focusing on the only place where change can be initiated: inside themselves! This growing community of like-minded and evolved young souls is transforming the definition of freedom for young adults.

It is an exciting time to be here in Boulder, Colorado. We invite you to come and see for yourself.