Young Adults Left Behind by Marijuana Legalization in Colorado, Washington

Major 'legalization' players satisfied with age limit, dissenters say prohibition should have ended for all adults.

Marijuana smoke fills the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo., April 20, 2010 during an annual rally.

Marijuana smoke fills the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo., April 20, 2010, during an annual rally.

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"I don't think MPP or NORML would lead the charge [to lower the age limit] and I don't think they have the legislative muscle," Houston explained. "Am I optimistic that it will happen anytime soon? Absolutely not."

Brett Engle, president of the Auraria SSDP chapter in Denver, said that during the legalization campaign "many students asked if the age would be 18 and were disappointed when they found out it would be 21." Engle, who is 28, said "it seems silly that you can go to war to die for your country, but you can't have a beer. Considering that cannabis is even less dangerous than alcohol, I think there is even more reason for it to be available to all adults."

In addition to legal penalties, students at public universities will continue to suffer nosey RAs and by-the-book administrators if caught puffing a joint. At the University of Washington, Associate Vice President Norman G. Arkans told U.S. News, "nothing has changed."

[STUDY: Teen Pot Use Associated With Drop in Intelligence]

The 43,000-student university, Arkans said, has opted to obey federal law rather than state law because it receives federal grants.

"Though consumption of marijuana may be legal in most of Washington State, it remains illegal to possess or consume it on University property," Arkans wrote in an E-mail. "So, no changes. It is illegal here and students could be subject to disciplinary action if they violate the federal statutes."

If busted with marijuana, students—no matter what age—will normally get a warning the first time, Arkans said, then "move through a series of increasingly serious discipline, from probation to possible expulsion."

Enforcing the federal prohibition on marijuana will prove complicated for the University of Washington, which has its own police force.

"I believe federal agents need to make arrests for federal offenses," noted Arkans, although campus police will be able to charge under-21 smokers. "Our police can refer, but have not done so as this is a new environment in the state."

[READ: Marijuana, Real or Fake, Can Lead to Unusual Gastro Problem]

At the University of Washington, there were 58 arrests for drug offenses in 2011 and 47 in 2012, according to numbers provided by the school. The majority of those arrests were for marijuana, but precise statistics were not available.

Despite the ambivalent and indifference of prominent marijuana reform advocates when it comes to ending pot prohibition for all adults, statistics show that young adults are far more likely than the general public to use marijuana.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2010—before marijuana was legalized by any state—21.5 percent of American adults between the ages of 18 to 25 ignored legal prohibitions and used marijuana at least once in the past month. For adults 26 and older, the percentage was only 4.8 percent.

Even if the age limit is locked in for Colorado and Washington young adults, there's some hope for the prospects of 18- to 21-year-olds being able to legally enjoy marijuana in other states yet to act on legalization.

Mike Crawford, a former president of The Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition who was on the group's board for ten years, told U.S. News that in 2016 he expects Massachusetts residents will vote on an initiative with an age limit of 18.

"Continuing a war on adult marijuana users between the ages of 18-21 is not acceptable," said Crawford, who believes the 18-year limit should be "the blueprint for these legalization initiatives in the future."

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