Children’s safety over marijuana industry’s profits
Virtually any policy debate requires leaders to sort through competing priorities. That’s certainly the case when it comes to the regulation of marijuana in Colorado.
Smart Colorado’s approach is simple: The health and welfare of kids should be the state’s top priority. If the best interest of kids conflicts with the marijuana industry’s desire to cash in, Colorado should come down squarely on the side of protecting children.
After a year of legalized recreational pot in Colorado, there is significantly more to do.
Regardless of views about adults and pot, reasonable people from all sides of this issue should be able to agree that recreational pot isn’t acceptable for those younger than 21. After all, that standard was articulated by Amendment 64, the constitutional amendment that legalized recreational marijuana.
Amendment 64 didn’t have to mean full-scale, unbridled marijuana commercialization — but the “green rush” is underway. This is especially concerning in places like Denver, where there are 308 pot shops among the total of 936 licensed marijuana facilities, which include cultivation and marijuana-infused product sites.
Quality health research takes time, so it may take years before a complete picture can emerge of the impact on kids from marijuana commercialization. In the meantime, Colorado’s kids are serving as guinea pigs in this grand experiment.
And there’s significant cause for concern.
First, existing research is strong that marijuana is extremely bad for the developing brains of adolescents. So does the commercialization of Colorado’s pot increase youth consumption? Emerging evidence suggests it does.
Colorado has recorded dramatic increases in exposure to marijuana for children five or younger; a spike in treatment admissions for teens using pot at the statewide Arapahoe House network; and an increase in drug-related suspensions/expulsions at Colorado schools.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the U.S. surgeon general’s report linking tobacco and ill health, a finding that triggered a public health crusade that continues today to reduce tobacco use.
The nation learned the hard way from tobacco that huge and irreversible damage may be done before scientific consensus converges on health risks.
When it comes to kids and pot, we think Colorado should err on the side of caution.
Colorado still can and should take more action to protect kids. We support:
- Potency limits on all forms of marijuana;
- Ensuring all marijuana edible products are clearly identifiable both inside and outside packaging;
- Strict regulations on the types of edibles allowed and prohibiting products that appeal to children such as familiar candies and snacks; and
- One uniform, transparent and enforceable marijuana regulatory structure that is at least as strict as those for tobacco and alcohol.
Most importantly, the state must ensure that Coloradans under 21 receive factual information about the demonstrated risks of using marijuana. These messages should be delivered with the urgency and power of Colorado’s youth prevention campaigns for tobacco.
Let’s not figure out too late that irreparable damage has been done and wish that we had taken stronger steps to protect the future of Colorado children. Let’s not continue to add an additional burden for Colorado youth or put them at a competitive disadvantage to youth elsewhere.
Diane Carlson is on the leadership team of Smart Colorado (SmartColorado.org).