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Students celebrate a smoke-free Friday

EDWARDS – While some across the state were celebrating dope Friday, hundreds of local kids gathered in Freedom Park for a more clear-eyed celebration.

Their 420 Drug Free Rally was their way of taking back the day from the counter culture that picked April 20 to flout the law and smoke marijuana in public. “420” has become a code word used by the pot-smoking subculture for “Let’s go get high.”

For many in the counterculture, 420 represents April 20 or the “National Pot Smoking Day.” Many see it as insensitive and a sleight of the Columbine High School tragedy, which occurred April 20, 1999.

So, eight counties around Colorado held rallies Friday to help promote smarter choices, and honor those who make them.

Senior Deputy Megan Richards is a school resource officer and sees it up close and personal – every day.

“We want to give kids a place to congregate to make good choices, and reward those who make good choices,” Richards said.

In Boulder and other places around the country, people are making different kinds of choices. No one at Freedom Park would confirm it, but we’re told the fields around the University of Colorado campus were topped with some nasty-smelling fish fertilizer – ostensibly to keep people with ill intent from congregating there.

In Freedom Park, Sheriff’s deputies planted some drugs around the park and Jake the drug-sniffing dog was very excited to seek out the bad stuff and report it to the cops. Jake really loves his work and was impressive in his demonstration.

The spring breeze was blowing away from him, there was all kinds of commotion and it took him mere seconds to find drugs in a newspaper box.

The High Altitude Aviation Training Site flew in a helicopter and let people climb all over it.

“These are our homes, this is where my kids grow up and live,” said Michael Martich, of the Colorado National Guard.

Angel Medina and William Langley volunteered to speak to the crowd of kids. They arrived in the back of a police vehicle, shackled and chained, dressed in the orange pants and striped shirts – standard issue for inmates in the Eagle County Jail.

They’re repeat drug offenders and as they looked across the crowd they saw younger versions of their own faces looking back.

“When I was younger, all the knowledge and wisdom was given to me. I could listen or nod my head and ignore it,” Medina said.

He chose the latter.

“You hold the power of choice and no one can take that away from you,” Medina said.

His parents divorced, he started smoking pot in the 6th grade – he was arrested twice before he was out of high school.

“My mom kept asking what she did wrong,” Medina said. “That doesn’t go away.”

He’s in the Eagle County Jail for a drug-related crime.

For 22 of Langley’s 41 years on this earth he’s been in jail or prison. His story started when he was 9 years old – it’s not a happy story.

He was arrested at 10, stole a car at 12 and was sentenced to a maximum security prison at 18. He was released in 2003 and was back in prison in 2004 for getting drunk, stealing a car and taking his 5-year-old son for a ride.

Now he’s a star in the local restorative justice program, where people like him turn themselves around.

“They tell you, ‘It’s just pot. It doesn’t hurt anybody.’ I’m somebody and it destroyed me,” he said.

Studies show that kids don’t seem to get it, Richards said.

“There’s a decreased perception about the risk and harm,” Richards said. “It’s not perceived as illegal or dangerous.”

But it is, said Avon Police Chief Bob Ticer.

“It’s about community education, letting youth know it’s cool not to do drugs,” Ticer said.

More than 60 percent of local high school students have never tried marijuana, according to a survey of local students.

And on Friday, hundreds of them were in Freedom Park. They cranked up a bonfire to celebrate.

“It’s designed to help kids understand that there are options other than experimenting with drugs,” said Michelle Hartell, Eagle River Youth Coalition. “There are so many opportunities for kids in this community. They just need to be plugged in from an early age.”


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