After Colorado legalized marijuana for adult use, New York Times Columnist Maureen Dowd came to Colorado to experience legal marijuana edibles. Here is how she described her evening: “For an hour, I felt nothing. . . . But then I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours. . . . It took all night before it began to wear off, distressingly slowly.”
Dowd’s experience vividly demonstrated that marijuana edibles can lead to unpredictable, intense and long-lasting intoxication.
Marijuana edibles are digested like food so the psychoactive ingredient, THC, is metabolized much slower than smoked or vaped marijuana. The state health department warns that “marijuana edibles may take 90 minutes to 4 hours to feel effect. Effects can last up to 8 hours.”
Fast forward to 2019 when Colorado state lawmakers created a way to further expand real risks to public health and safety. Beginning in 2020, local governments will be able to opt-in to public marijuana consumption in places such as pot clubs, tasting rooms, restaurants that don’t serve liquor, and tour buses.
This is a far cry from what Colorado voters were sold by proponents in 2012 where Amendment 64 stated, “nothing in this section shall permit consumption that is conducted openly and publicly or in a manner that endangers others”.
Meanwhile to date, there has yet to be any meaningful limits on state permitted THC potencies with legislation last year going so far as to actually require consumers to purchase minimum amounts, that are already enough to make someone immediately high.
Recent news about lung illnesses linked to vaping THC products strongly suggest these consumption sites will not be risk free. But there is another risk to public safety posed by these consumption sites.
As presently written, draft regulations would allow the sale and consumption of marijuana edibles in these businesses. The science is clear that marijuana edibles have delayed effects that make them ill-suited for public consumption due to potential hazards of impaired driving.
The slow absorption of edible marijuana will make it difficult for businesses to monitor impairment of patrons and more likely that patrons will over consume or leave a consumption site before their impairment peaks.
The law as passed gave the state regulator, the Department of Revenue, the power to make “[r]estrictions on the type of any Retail Marijuana or Retail Marijuana Product authorized to be sold…”
The regulators should exercise their authority and prohibit the sale of marijuana-infused food and drink products in these “Marijuana Hospitality and Sales Businesses”.
In a recent public hearing on the subject, several representatives of the marijuana industry expressed concerns regarding marijuana edibles: Consumers don’t understand the rate of metabolism for marijuana edibles, which therefore are the usual cause for marijuana intoxication.
Marijuana edibles are more likely than smoked marijuana to result in Emergency Department visits for acute psychiatric symptoms and intoxication, according to a published review of four years of records at a Colorado hospital.
Almost a quarter of Colorado traffic deaths are now marijuana-related. Traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana have doubled since legalization. This is without the additional risks of public consumption, which has until now been prohibited.
Almost seven years since legalization, there is still no breathalyzer for THC, which would make it easier to identify and prosecute THC-impaired drivers.
Standardized public education around impairment is impossible because edible marijuana absorption is highly variable.
While there are a host of concerns and risks around the state allowing for pot clubs, municipalities can wisely opt out from doing so, and the state can reduce significant and dangerous risks by not allowing marijuana products that have a delayed impairment time.
The Department of Revenue’s stated mission is to “promote public safety and reduce public harm” through its regulation of marijuana. We call on our state elected officials and state regulators to fulfill their duty.
Henny Lasley is executive director of Smart Colorado, the only nonprofit organization focused on protecting the health, safety and well-being of youths as marijuana becomes increasingly available and commercialized.