Marijuana Munchies Wreaking Havoc in Colorado
On January 1st 2014, doors opened across the state of Colorado, USA, to stores legally allowed to sell marijuana for recreational purposes. From regular marijuana to edibles and even drinkables, stores such as Sticky Buds, The Grass Station and Sweet Leaf are legally allowed to sell products containing marijuana to anyone over the age of 21 – and have already generated $12.6 million in taxes and fees for the state.
The controversy surrounding this legal move has, of course, been enormous – with the marijuana edibles receiving most of the concern. Since the beginning of the year, hospitals have seen a rise in children under the influence of marijuana, police have seen a rise in cases of people driving under the influence of marijuana, and two deaths are said to be related to the consumption of edible marijuana – all available for purchase at these stores.
As with alcohol, it’s not overly difficult for underage persons to acquire the edibles. However, the taste and smell of alcohol can often deter a young child from trying it – even if it’s left out around the home. The edibles, however, come in the form of cookies, granola, and even gummy candies – often brightly coloured – making them very appealing for young eyes.
The Children’s Hospital Colorado has reportedly treated 9 children for the consumption of marijuana, 6 of whom became critically ill. In all of 2013, the same hospital saw only eight cases throughout the year. John Gates, the director of school safety and security in the district, has bluntly reminded people to keep their marijuana hidden from children: “For crying out loud, secure your weed. If you can legally possess it, that’s fine. But it has no place in an elementary school.”
Aside from this unintended yet alarming side effect, two deaths have been credited at least in part to the edibles – although to what extent the edibles played a part cannot be determined 100%. Traffic citations for those driving stoned have risen rapidly, as well as drug infractions in neighbouring states (where the drug is still illegal). Just outside the state of Colorado in Colby, Kansas, Police Chief Ron Alexander told the New York Times that he has tallied 20 cases so far this year for sale, distribution or possession of marijuana. Two years ago, he saw only 6 such cases in the same time period, despite the fact that under the new recreational marijuana laws, taking the drug outside of state lines is strictly prohibited.
Tourists, however, are welcome to come to Colorado to eat or smoke the drug – provided they are of the legal age. Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist, recently ventured to Colorado to eat the edibles as part of a story for the newspaper. It didn’t end well for her; however, as she reports that she was “curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours.” Despite what local retailers believe, Dowd thinks that the edibles are not marked correctly – and for someone not used to the effects of THC (the active substance in marijuana) the doses can be far too strong, leaving the user in a state of panic and paranoia.
Rachel O’Bryan, a volunteer with Smart Colorado – an organisation devoted to ensuring that youth are not harmed by this new law – believes that the portion sizes of the edibles go against that of what Americans are used to. One small candy can pack in a full dose of THC. And since Americans are used to large portions, they are often eating far more than the recommended dosage and becoming ill.
As the first state in the U.S. to allow recreational marijuana use, it comes as no surprise that there are many unanticipated side effects, and unfortunately it may take years before we know the true effects of legal marijuana use or teen use, ‘gateway drug’ capabilities and fatalities or life-altering problems. And while Colorado is being watched closely by law-makers around the world to see what happens, these negative side effects have not stopped Washington State from following suit. On July 8, 2014 a couple dozen shops were allowed to open their doors – and the demand was through the roof. One shop, Cannabis City, sold out of stock completely in just two days – and has had to close down until they can get more.
And while the demand is clearly there, and the taxes will be beneficial for the state, is legalising marijuana the right thing to do? Will it find its way into the hands of more children? Cause more deaths? Lead to more addiction problems? In a country that is struggling already with addiction rates, is it right to allow them freer access to drugs?
Despite popular belief, Marijuana can be quite addictive. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), between 9 to 50% of users may become addicted, depending on their frequency of use. If you or someone you know is having a problem with addiction, it’s important to contact a professional for help.