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Colorado police officers warns of marijunana dangers

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Sgt. Jim Gerhardt

Sgt. Jim Gerhardt of the Thorton Police Department in Colorado cautioned Iowans not to allow medicinal use of marijuana because he said it would likely lead to approval of recreational use of the drug. He spoke in Sioux City on Friday.

SIOUX CITY | A Denver-area police officer cautioned Siouxlanders Friday not to follow down the path of his own state on marijuana.

The approval of marijuana for medicinal purposes in 2000 paved the way for people to buy the drug for recreational use 14 years later, said Sgt. Jim Gerhardt of the Thorton Police Department.

“If you legalize it, then you’re done," Gerhardt said at a news conference Friday. "There is going to be no way to contain it.”

In the last four years, there has been a 92-percent increase in marijuana-related fatal car accidents in the state, according to data from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program, a component of the National Drug Control Strategy. Overall, fatal car accidents rose by 8 percent, Gerhardt said.

In 2014, the Colorado State Patrol reported 874 driving under the influence of drugs arrests, with 77 percent of those arrests -- 674 -- involving marijuana, said Gerhardt. He compared the numbers to drunk driving.

“Everybody in the world knows if you drink too much alcohol you’re going to get drunk and you shouldn’t be on the roads, yet people do it,” said Gerhardt. “I think with marijuana it’s the same.”

Gerhardt was the featured speaker at a two-hour forum Friday at the Long Line Family Rec Center that drew more than 200 people. 

Several local organizations and law enforcement departments hosted the event to raise awareness for national impaired driving prevention month, said Carla Granstrom, coordinator for the Reality Education Alcohol Prevention Program at Mercy Medical Center.

Some Iowa leaders have been pushing to legalize marijuana for medical  reasons.

Peter Komendowski, president of the Partnership for a Drug-Free Iowa, said he considers the possibility of legalized marijuana in the state a threat to children.

Children and teens engage in risky behavior more often when they are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, Komendowski said.

“The decisions we make have to favor the safety and health and welfare of our children," said Komendowski on the possibility of legalizing marijuana. 

Komendowski said parents and their children should be educated on health risks that might come with marijuana so they are prepared.

“If we have to wait for a test to see if they’re really impaired, or if we have to go to do the morgue, it’s too late,” he said.

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