Henny Lasley, executive director, Smart Colorado

Colorado’s marijuana message for 9 states with pot ballot issues: THC potency matters

DENVER — Skyrocketing marijuana potencies with potentially deadly consequences have emerged as a vexing issue for Colorado regulators – providing a preview of what other states with marijuana ballot issues could face.

The nine states considering ballot issues this fall to loosen restrictions on marijuana can learn from Colorado’s experience with mass marijuana commercialization, which has taken a toll on the state’s children.

The new Rocky Mountain PBS show “Insight with John Ferrugia” highlights two deaths associated with “dabbing,” the smoking of highly concentrated forms of THC – the psychoactive drug in marijuana — known as “wax” or “shatter”.

It also says that Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment Executive Director Dr. Larry Wolk supports limiting marijuana potency until more studies have been conducted.

“It’s just very difficult to study what the true impacts are when you’re dealing with all these different levels of potency,” Wolk says.

Wolk adds: “The credible research that exists was all done on THC potency that’s very low compared to what we see being made available through products today.”

Adds Dr. Kari Franson of the University of Colorado School of Pharmacy: “These super high concentrations of THC – we don’t know what happens because we have not been studying it.”

While each serving of marijuana edibles in Colorado is limited to 10 mg of THC, dabbing can deliver as much as 600-800 mg of THC, Franson says.

“Dabbing has become very popular very quickly and nobody has been able to look at dabbers and publish any results because it’s too new,” Franson notes.

Smart Colorado co-founder Diane Carlson said: “We appreciate Drs. Wolk and Franson for highlighting the tremendous uncertainties presented by Colorado’s high-THC marijuana.  We know that marijuana at much lower potencies is damaging to the developing brain and yet highly potent products are being sold every day in Colorado and are getting into the hands of kids and young adults.”

Formed after Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, Smart Colorado ( is the state’s only nonprofit organization focused on protecting the health, safety and well-being of Colorado youth as marijuana becomes increasingly commercialized.

Nationally, the potency of marijuana has more than doubled since the early 1990s. But in Colorado it is even stronger: Average potency of flowers/buds in Colorado is now 17.1% THC while the average potency for concentrates is 62.1%. Potency rates of up to 95% have been recorded. 

Carlson added: “We urge other states considering marijuana ballot initiatives to ask important questions and to hold the marijuana industry accountable.  We need to better protect children and young adults who are increasingly being exposed to today’s high-potency marijuana.” 

Smart Colorado offers lessons learned from Colorado’s marijuana commercialization experiment in a policy brief at