Henny Lasley, Executive Director, Smart Colorado

Colorado’s marijuana experiment offers lessons for states with pot ballot issues

Smart Colorado works to protect youth from growing commercialization, potency

DENVER – 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.

Colorado now ranks first in the nation for past month marijuana use by those 12-17 years old, according to National Surveys on Drug Use and Health data released in December by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

That’s a consequence of commercialization. As of January, Colorado had 424 retail marijuana stores compared to 322 Starbucks and 202 McDonald’s, according to the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.  There are a total of 2,849 state-licensed marijuana businesses, including manufacturing and cultivation facilities.

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.

Lessons learned in Colorado include:

“Unfortunately for Colorado’s kids, we learned lessons the hard way – by trial and error,” said Diane Carlson, a co-founder of Smart Colorado. “In the process, Colorado has endangered a generation of children. While we may not be able to undo the damage marijuana commercialization has done to young Coloradans, other states can benefit from our experiences and protect kids.”

“We hear about the low- or no-THC marijuana treatments for athletes recovering from injuries or children suffering from seizures and, while research is very limited, we see the hope these can offer,” added Carlson, whose son experienced multiple daily seizures. “But those products bear little resemblance to the ultra-high-potency products that have turned Colorado’s marijuana into a fundamentally harder, more dangerous drug.”


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