New pot concerns leave Colorado hazy


A 19-year-old Wyoming college student checked into a Denver hotel room over spring break with three buddies. They came to Colorado looking for adventure - hoping to score a little weed in the first state to legalize sales of recreational marijuana to people ages 21 and over.

A visit to one of the city's pot stores yielded a batch of "marijuana cookies" laced with THC, the active ingredient in pot. By state law, "edible" marijuana products can contain no more than 10 milligrams of THC per serving. A large cookie or brownie, however, can contain up to 10 servings - or 100 milligrams of THC.

Authorities are not saying how much was in the cookie the Wyoming engineering major ate. But in the early morning hours, after becoming hostile and violent, he jumped from his hotel room's fourth-floor balcony to his death.

One month later, a 44-year old Denver wife and mother was shot and killed while pleading with 911 dispatchers to send help. She claimed her husband had become violent, suffering from hallucinations and may have consumed edible marijuana. Police confirmed the husband's possible pot use was part of their ongoing homicide investigation.

Just like that, Colorado suddenly has its first two marijuana-related deaths since legalization Jan. 1.

"This is all happening so quickly we can't keep up with it," Rep. Frank McNulty, a Republican lawmaker in the state's Genral Assembly, told reporters. He has teamed with Democratic Rep. Jonathan Singer to back a bill that standardizes potency so that one ounce of a marijuana leaf product is the same as an edible or other type of consumable good.

"We do know that marijuana is not without harm," Tim Byers, an associate dean at the Colorado School of Public Health, said. "The marijuana of 2014 is not the marijuana of 1969."

Previous research has unearthed a host of health risks and consequences associated with using the drug - from increasing the risk of cancer to lowering one's IQ and acting as a possible trigger for latent psychosis. In the short term, heavy marijuana use - especially in its edible forms - can lead to anxiety, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath and hallucinations.

Now comes word of a new report from the Journal of the American Heart Association. In it, cardiologists warn that "clinical evidence suggests the potential for serious cardiovascular risks associated with marijuana use," including increasing risks of heart attack and stroke.

The researchers cited evidence that marijuana use probably increases clotting factors in the blood and that heavy use of the drug may lead to significant changes in the tiny vessels charged with transporting blood and oxygen to the heart and brain.

It is not that Colorado officials, and voters, were never made aware of these risks. It is that a "Wild West" mentality of legalizing pot has touched off a frenzy of entrepreneurial "land-grabs" to try to corner this emerging market and rake in the profits.

Last month, what is believed to be the nation's first identity-verifying marijuana vending machine was unveiled in Avon, Colorado. The lime-green box - named "Zazzz" - is equipped with technology that confirms a user's identity and age before dispensing a full array of marijuana products, including edibles and pre-rolled joints. The machine accepts cash and credit cards.

If marketers are savvy, they would eventually position these marijuana vending machines next to the other ones selling candy bars, chips and sodas and watch the money flow in. Consumers would buy their weed and any snacks they suddenly have an urge for all in one-stop shopping.

But maybe the focus shouldn't be so narrowly fixated on earning and growing green as it should the effects this first-in-the-nation legislation is generating, positive and negative.

With 37 new dispensaries around the state now open, the state's first week retail sales were estimated at $5 million. No, we are not high. We said $5 million in the first week.

Colorado has levied a 15% wholesale tax and 10% retail tax on legal marijuana transactions. According to the website, one-eighth of an ounce of grass was selling for an average of $65 around the first of the year.

Using those projections, Colorado has forecast it will earn more than $600 million in combined wholesale and retail marijuana sales annually. That would net the state a collection of more than $70 million from pot sales this year alone with $27.5 million designated for schools.

Experts believe legal U.S. sales of marijuana could rise to more than $2.3 billion this year and up to $10 billion by 2019.

Washington state is the second to adopt laws similar to Colorado's plan. They are expected to go in effect later this summer. They need to be looking very closely at Colorado to see what works and what doesn't. Other states expected to follow, from New York to California, also should be paying attention.

Dr. Shereif Rezkalla and Dr. Robert Kloner were two of the cardiologists sounding the alarm bell. In their report, they concluded, "It is the responsibility of the medical community to determine the safety of the drug before it is widely legalized for recreational use."

We agree with their assessment. "Reefer madness" is the last thing we need to further erode the fabric of our society.


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