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 (www.smartcolorado.org) 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:
- Be skeptical of promises of windfalls from marijuana taxes. While schools were identified as beneficiaries of Colorado’s Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana, the revenue has amounted to only a drop in the public education budget bucket. “So far, the only thing that the legalization of marijuana has brought to our schools has been marijuana,” the superintendent of one of Colorado’s largest school districts wrote recently.
- Be aware of the perils of high-potency pot. 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 – pot’s psychoactive ingredient — while the average potency for concentrates is 62.1%. Potency rates of up to 95% have been recorded. In Colorado, highly potent edibles have been tied to a spike in hospitalizations – including many children — and even deaths. These edibles come in innocuous forms like candies, cookies and sodas; they are attractive to kids and can be easily concealed at school.
- Stand up for kids. In Colorado’s green rush, the marijuana industry marshalled an army of lobbyists and lawyers. Smart Colorado often was the only voice advocating for protections for children at the state capitol or in city halls.
“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.”