This Fact-Based Cannabis Curriculum Out Of Denver Is A Far Cry From 'Just Say No'

It’s no secret that ‘Just Say No’ just doesn’t work – but that’s never been truer than today in parts of the United States where cannabis is legal.

“Today’s youth is growing up in a world where marijuana is legal, and we can’t keep using this archaic dialogue around it,” says long-time educator Sarah Grippa.

“Students aren’t going to take [cannabis education] seriously if this is something that’s legal, something their parents are doing, something Grandma uses for her arthritis, and what they’re hearing in school is: ‘don’t do it, just say no, it could kill you.’

“[Legalization] is moving forward, and we have to have progressive education that parallels that changing dynamic.”

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Molly Lotz and Sarah Grippa of the Marijuana Education Initiative. 

Enter the Marijuana Education Initiative, a Denver, CO-based curriculum co-founded by Grippa and former school counsellor Molly Lotz. Catering to students in Grade 5 and up at schools and community groups across the country, the fact-based program provides a progressive crash course on the burgeoning world of cannabis - with a focus on why it’s safe and legal for adults, but inadvisable for kids. 

“It’s important that students understand why [cannabis] is legal, and why adult use is different than adolescent use,” Grippa tells Civilized.

“Our approach is to provide students with all the information they need to make informed decisions, so we talk about adolescent brain development and how the prefrontal cortex is still developing into the early twenties. We also talk about the endocannabinoid system.

“Once we cover all this... students are able to understand how there’s a different impact on them versus their parents, and how delaying that initial [cannabis] use can be really important.”

From the proper development of executive functioning skills to potential mental health ramifications, the effects of “altering [the developing brain] with any substance” need to be taken seriously, says Grippa. In other words, kids need some accurate context for why 21 is the minimum age of consumption in all states where cannabis is recreationally legal. 

Of course, given the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug – which makes federally approved research on the substance extremely difficult and costly – it’s not always easy for educators (let alone students) to get their facts straight.  

With these kinds of restrictions in mind back when Grippa and Lotz began developing the curriculum (roughly two-and-a-half years ago), they first turned to doctors, neurologists and certified addiction counsellors to “really round out and solidify our understanding.” They then aligned their findings with a meta-analysis of major cannabis studies conducted by experts with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  

The result, says Grippa, was a modernized and “empowering” package that “arms students with information.”

“We’ve gotten great responses from students, teachers and parents alike because everyone wants to know how to have this updated conversation,” says Grippa.

“Before, we had teachers tell us they don’t talk about marijuana at all in their health classes because they don’t know what to say since it’s legal... and parents who said: ‘listen, I use cannabis and the kid calls me a hypocrite and I don’t know what to say.’

“We’ve really made an effort to change that dialogue for everyone... it’s all about having an informed and intelligent conversation [about cannabis].”

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