Rant & Rave: Medical Marijuana and No Child Left Behind

February 2012

Rant: Kudos on the big drug bust, but please lay off the medical marijuana industry.

Yesterday, federal and state law enforcement announced the largest drug bust in Colorado history, a multi-year sting that netted more than 100 arrests—many of them with gang ties—and confiscated money, assault weapons, cocaine, crack, and methamphetamine.

We’re all for America’s finest going after this terribly destructive problem; we’re less excited about the ongoing efforts to curb the state’s legal medical marijuana business. While it makes sense to keep dispensaries away from schools, and to make sure patients aren’t using it in potentially harmful ways, the widespread criminal activity everyone was so concerned about a few years ago simply hasn’t materialized. As long as MMJ producers are fully registered and following the law, we see no reason for the government to keep harassing peddlers (and users) of a legal medicinal substance that study after study shows is less harmful than alcohol. Fortunately, some influential voices are calling for a more rational approach.

Rave: No longer shackled by No Child Left Behind, Colorado’s education innovators can start to focus on what really works.

After a decade of confusion and decidedly mixed results, the federal government this week formally released Colorado and nine other states from the rigid requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Since President Bush signed it in 2001, this well-intentioned but poorly executed and widely reviled educational law has, in part, awarded federal grant money to public school districts based primarily on how well students perform on standardized tests.

Critics of NCLB have said it takes too narrow a view of academic achievement and may even have motivated teachers and students to cheat the system. During its tenure, results have disappointed, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas. The government chose the first 10 states to be partially amnestied based on educational innovations that are already underway, and 28 more states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, have begun exploring similar options.

Colorado won its freedom thanks largely to its Growth Model, a more fluid and meaningful measuring stick. (5280 used the Growth Model to rate area elementary schools in our 2010 education issue.) It’s been watched and lauded throughout the United States for providing a much clearer picture of how well (or not so well) students and teachers are progressing. Although there will probably never be a perfect way to quantify any school’s performance, groundbreaking approaches like the Growth Model are at least pointed in a more productive direction.