What My Middle Schoolers Learned From Debating Marijuana Legalization

COLORADO:  As a teacher, I have never been reticent to bring up controversial topics in class.

Living and teaching in Colorado for the past 30 years, I have seen tremendous societal and legislative changes in my state on the issue of marijuana. In 2000, voters approved the legalization of marijuana for medicinal uses, and in 2012, a measure to allow a state-regulated recreational marijuana industry. The state has a new economy based on the sale and distribution of what used to be an illegal product (and still is, under federal law).

My history classes have discussed the issue of marijuana since 1987 in a lesson built around the legislative process. In those lessons, each student researched, wrote and sponsored a bill in our Congress simulation. My classes became the House and the Senate, with me as President.

Students wrote, read and debated their bills in class. Their goal: to get the bill approved for passage by their peers. In addition to marijuana, they debated a number of contentious topics, including abortion, gun control, marriage equality, terrorism and torture. If you could think of anything potentially controversial, I probably had a student write a bill about that topic. And as “President,” I actually signed some well-written and well-researched bills into “law,” once they completed the entire legislative process.