Opinion

Enough! Continued marijuana commercialization threatens Colorado kids

Author: Henny Lasley - April 17, 2018 - Updated: April 17, 2018

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Henny Lasley

Since Colorado voters in 2012 approved Amendment 64 to legalize recreational marijuana, the industry has continually tried to expand marijuana commercialization through the legislative process.

It’s understandable that some in the industry want more opportunities to make money from marijuana. But at some point we as a state have to stand up for kids and say: enough!

Coloradans’ vote for Amendment 64 shouldn’t be equated with blanket approval for unlimited commercialization of marijuana.

Marijuana commercialization in Colorado is linked to higher rates of youth use.  Denver and Pueblo, the epicenters of commercialization, have significantly higher rates of youth marijuana consumption than the state as a whole, according to state data.

Smart Colorado was formed by volunteers after the passage of Amendment 64. A small handful of parents recognized that we were the only people advocating specifically for kids amid a scrum of marijuana lobbyists.

While our nonprofit has become more professional since then, we’re still badly outmuscled by the industry. Last year, The Hill newspaper reported that 81 lobbyists reported advocating on marijuana proposals before the Colorado Legislature.

Our organization focuses specifically on how to keep the commercialization of marijuana from hurting kids. The latest proposals that concern us are House Bills 1258 and 1092.

HB 1258 would allow recreational marijuana stores to open facilities where customers could use marijuana, including highly potent concentrates, on site. The industry refers to them euphemistically as “tasting rooms” but nothing limits consumption there to just a “taste.”

In communities that opt in, pot shops could double the number of storefronts by adding these new facilities.  Imagine Denver or Pueblo with twice as many recreational marijuana shops.

Also imagine the potential for more impaired drivers on our roads. Seventy-seven Coloradans died in marijuana-involved car accidents in 2016, the most recent year reported by the state. This deadly total has dramatically increased since 2013.

state committee noted that those who use marijuana less than once a week may be impaired for at least six hours after smoking and eight hours after eating or drinking marijuana products. HB 1258 would increase the likelihood that they will drive impaired.

Although the marijuana industry often states that Coloradans voted to regulate marijuana like alcohol, this is one area where the voters voiced a specific preference for marijuana to NOT be treated the same.

Amendment 64 states: “[N]othing in this section shall permit consumption that is conducted openly and publicly or in a manner that endangers others.”

Unlike laws that govern alcohol – which specifically allow for public consumption in licensed premises – this constitutional language governing marijuana expressly prohibits it.

Also in the legislature, HB 1092 would create a pilot program for marijuana delivery in up to three communities.

Our concern is delivery of medical marijuana to 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds. We know from educators, parents and school resource officers across Colorado that there is incredible abuse of the medical marijuana market among this age group.

Some high school students wait until they turn 18 and obtain their medical marijuana card to get legal access to nearly unlimited amounts of marijuana that they can share with friends and sell to other kids.

According to the most recent state statistics, just over 3,300 18-to-20-year-olds have a medical marijuana card and their top reported symptom is severe pain.

According to the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, 47 percent of youth who use marijuana report that someone gave it to them, while 9 percent specifically know they got it from someone with a medical marijuana card.

The bill’s proponents refused to consider an amendment to carve out delivery to 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds when we asked.

We believe such an amendment is reasonable, especially because under the state’s existing rules homebound medical users can designate someone to pick up their marijuana for them.

It’s time to choose kids’ health and safety over marijuana industry profits.

Henny Lasley

Henny Lasley

Henny Lasley is a co-founder of Smart Colorado who now serves as the nonprofit’s executive director.