As the State of Illinois inches closer to legalizing recreational marijuana, a Galva native has a few words of caution.

As the State of Illinois inches closer to legalizing recreational marijuana, a Galva native has a few words of caution.

Stacey Collis — a school resource officer for Green Mountain High School in Lakewood, Colo., for the past 18 years and 28-year member of the Lakewood Police Department — has witnessed the impact legalizing recreational marijuana has had on youth in Colorado.

“It is impacting our kids and we’re going to lose generations as a result of decisions to open it recreationally,” said Collis during a recent interview at the Galva News office.

As president of the Colorado Association of School Resource Officers, Collis has the opportunity to share his day-to-day experiences with fellow officers and educators. He’ll be speaking in New Jersey — another state, like Illinois, considering recreational legalization — in March and plans to speak again in Nevada in June. His message is about the impact of marijuana on youth, and things officers and educators need to anticipate if legalization becomes a reality in their state.

“It’s frightening in the sense of how easy it is for the kids to figure it out, and how much behind the curve most adults are,” Collis said. 

Collis has seen the surveys in Colorado that declare marijuana use among youth down since it was legalized recreationally in 2014. Through his own experience as a school resource officer, he respectfully agrees to disagree with those surveys.

“Whether you’re pro marijuana or against it, it is impacting kids,” Collis said. “Everybody has their own opinion. My opinion is it does impact kids in a negative way.”

With the advent of social media, Collis said it’s pretty simple for youth to get their hands on marijuana. In Denver proper, he noted there are more legal marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks and McDonald’s locations combined.

“It’s 21 just like alcohol,” Collis said of the legal age to purchase marijuana products, “but with social media and all the ways to get this, it all kind of hit at the same time as this started really taking over. It’s crazy, but it’s at breakneck speed with the social media.”

Marijuana, in his opinion, has become easier for kids to obtain than alcohol. When someone under age wants alcohol, they have to find someone 21 to make the purchase. With marijuana, Collis said minors can use social media to order what they want and have it delivered, whether it be to their local park or fast food restaurant. The money changes hands and no names are exchanged.

“That makes investigation from the law enforcement side very, very difficult,” Collis said. “They know where to go to order marijuana products and beyond.”

In addition to the surveys suggesting youth usage is down, Collis said people also have to be wary of the promises of state income and jobs that will be created by recreational marijuana legalization.

“We see it on a daily basis and we see the kids are struggling. Are the dollars going where they say they’re going and doing the things as far as therapy and education?” Collis said. “It is getting into kids’ hands and the dosages are so high. It is something I would hope people would take a hard look at.”

“There’s going to be an impact, even in a small town,” he added of legalization. “I would hate to see it here (Galva), this is where I grew up. Were there other issues when I grew up — sure — but things that were manageable.”

 

 

The role of an SRO

So what is exactly is the role of a school resource officer (SRO)? It’s a job description not all that familiar in Illinois educational circles, but commonplace in Colorado.

Green Mountain High School has about 1,200 students and Collis has an office in the building. As the SRO, he handles a caseload that’s self-generated within the school — whether it be responding to calls for service, drug issues, driving issues, or any of a multitude of criminal activities.

“We’re trying to deal with things without them getting to a criminal level, if we can,” Collis said, a Galva High School graduate and the son of Dale and Sharon Collis. “It’s a unique position, but I call it community policing at its best.”

In addition to responding to service calls, Collis serves as an informal counselor and mentor, and goes into the classrooms and offers law-related education. In a math class he’ll discuss traffic-related investigations and how math skills are important to accident reconstruction, and in a biology class he’ll touch on the impact of alcohol and marijuana usage.

“When I first came into the schools, I didn’t think anybody would come talk to me in a uniform,” Collis said, “but it was shown to me very quickly that the kids will. We talk about anything and everything.”