DENVER — Colorado's marijuana experiment is threatened by the popularity of eating it instead of smoking it, leading the pot industry to join health officials and state regulators to try to curb the problem of consumers ingesting too much weed.
A task force gathered Wednesday to start brainstorming ways to educate consumers, including a standard warning system on popular edibles, which is the industry term for marijuana that has been concentrated and infused into food or drink.
One idea was to fashion labels on edible pot like the difficulty guidelines on ski slopes, a system very familiar to Colorado residents. Weak marijuana products would have green dots, grading up to black diamonds for the most potent edibles.
"We should have a marking so that when people come in, they know what they're getting," said Chris Halsor of the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.
Marijuana-infused foods are booming in the state's new recreational market.
Some choose edible pot because of health concerns about smoking the drug. Others are visitors who can't find a hotel that allows toking and are stymied by a law barring public outdoor pot smoking. Whether through inexperience or confusion, many are eating too much pot too quickly, with potentially deadly consequences.
A college student from Wyoming jumped to his death from a Denver hotel balcony last month after consuming six times the recommended dosage of a marijuana-infused cookie. And earlier this month, a Denver man accused of shooting his wife reportedly ate pot-laced candy before the attack, though police say he may have had other drugs in his system.
The deaths have underscored a common complaint from new marijuana customers — they say they don't know how much pot to eat and then have unpleasant experiences when they ingest too much.
Colorado already limits THC — marijuana's intoxicating chemical — in edible pot products to 10mg per serving, with a maximum of 10 servings per package. Exact comparisons are tricky because marijuana varies widely in potency and quality, but 10mg of THC is considered roughly equivalent to the amount in a medium-sized joint.
Edibles must be sold in opaque, childproof containers that explicitly warn the product contains marijuana. Colorado also bans retailers from adding concentrated pot to a premade food item, such as injecting cannabis oil into a branded candy bar, though the move is common among home cooks.
Marijuana producers at the meeting warned that Colorado may drive consumers to use untested, unregulated edible marijuana instead of pot packages sold in stores if regulations go too far.
Dan Anglin of EdiPure, maker of many popular kinds of pot-infused candies, held up a picture of home-cooked marijuana concentrate for sale online. Anglin pushed for warning labels and better training for dispensary employees but warned that rules forcing edible pot to be too weak may simply drive customers to the black market.
"People do have an expectation of intoxication" when they eat pot, Anglin said.
In Washington state, where retail sales don't begin until July, edible pot products will have the same 10mg serving size, with a maximum of 10 servings per package, said Brian Smith of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which is regulating recreational pot sales.
Any marijuana "serving size" in food is a wild guess because so little is known about marijuana dosing, said Dr. Michael Kosnett of the Colorado School of Public Health. Pot studies are based on controlled amounts in pill form, not cannabis mixed with food, he said.
Colorado authorities are scrambling to do more to rein in edibles given the recent deaths and complaints. State lawmakers are considering legislation that would require edibles — the cookies and candies themselves, not just the wrappers — to be marked and colored to indicate they contain pot.
Another bill would reduce possession limits on concentrated marijuana, such as cannabis oils used in brownies or cookies. Both bills have passed the House and await Senate hearings Thursday.
Marijuana industry groups have supported the bills, even as they say that edible pot is just as legal as the leafy, dried drug that's rolled into joints and smoked.
The task force had no immediate deadline for suggesting new regulations on edibles.