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GUEST COLUMN: Colorado adults must step up for kids when it comes to marijuana

By: Henny Lasley
May 9, 2018 Updated: May 9, 2018 at 10:36 am
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Regardless of what one thinks about recreational marijuana, we all should be able to agree on one point: It is bad for kids.

Not only is it illegal for those under 21 to use marijuana recreationally, but a growing body of research shows that it harms their developing brains.

It's the obligation of adults - from parents to policymakers - to protect kids from risks they may not be able to fully grasp.

This challenge has become especially pressing because of the lightning rate of marijuana commercialization in Colorado that has resulted in kids being bombarded by unrelenting marketing and a new generation of highly potent marijuana products that raise the risks for teenage brains.

The efforts to expand marijuana commercialization have not stopped since the passage in Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012.

Case in point: The Colorado Legislature just sent Gov. John Hickenlooper House Bill 1258, which would allow recreational marijuana stores to open facilities where customers could use marijuana, including highly potent concentrates, on site.

While Colorado Springs doesn't currently allow recreational marijuana stores, surrounding communities do. In communities that opt in, recreational marijuana shops could double the number of storefronts, under this bill. In other words, much more commercialization.

HB 1258 also would contribute to drugged driving. Seventy-seven Coloradans died in marijuana-involved car accidents in 2016, the most recent year reported by the state, a significant increase from previous years.

A state committee noted that those who use marijuana less than once a week may be impaired for at least eight hours after eating or drinking marijuana products.

It's these sorts of new products, including edibles and concentrates, that are both risky to kids and sometimes confusing to today's parents, who may recall the low-potency marijuana leafs of earlier eras. That's why we created THCphotos.org as a resource for media and others that depicts the reality of today's marijuana products.

It's also why we launched NotTheSamePot.org with billboards and online ads in Colorado Springs to give parents and other adults the tools to understand and then talk teens about the reality of today's high-potency marijuana products.

THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects. Levels of THC have been growing exponentially as marijuana has been commercialized in Colorado.

Potency averaged about 3.8 percent THC in the early 1990s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Now concentrated forms of marijuana typically vary between 60-80 percent THC, although rates as high as 95 percent have been observed, according to 2015 state research.

They also are delivered in new ways that may be harder to spot (or smell) for parents, including vaping and concentrates that may come in a powdered form that can be sprinkled in a water bottle.

Despite these dramatic increases in the potency of Colorado's marijuana, fewer Colorado teens now see regular marijuana use as risky, according to the latest state survey of high school students.

It's understandable that the marijuana industry would want to continually expand commercialization.

But it's time we acted like adults and took a moment to look out for the best interests of Colorado's kids.

That's why Smart Colorado, a nonprofit created after the passage of Amendment 64 to protect kids from marijuana commercialization, urges the governor to veto HB 1258.

We also encourage parents and others who interact with youth to visit NotTheSamePot.org to learn more about today's high-potency marijuana so they can have fact-based conversations with teens. We know that these interactions can have a big influence on the choices youth make.

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Henny Lasley is executive director of Smart Colorado, the only nonprofit focused exclusively on protecting the health, safety and well-being of Colorado youth as marijuana becomes increasingly commercialized. For additional information: smartcolorado.org.

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