The early fallout is coming in from Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and not all the data is reassuring.
Advocates say marijuana need not be treated as a dangerous drug and that its legal sale will have economic benefits but some of the news out of Colorado has not been positive.
Three months after the new drug regulations took effect last January, Levy Thamba, 19, an exchange student from the Republic of Congo, became agitated after eating marijuana-infused cookies and leaped to his death from the balcony of a Denver hotel. A post-mortem examination found marijuana intoxication was a factor in the death.
In another tragic case, Denver police say a man ate marijuana-infused candy before shooting and killing his wife, an attack that dispatchers heard during a 911 call the woman placed.
Another disturbing case surrounding the Colorado legalization involved fourth-graders who were caught dealing the drug at an elementary school in northern Colorado. Of the three 10-year-old boys and a 10-year-old girl who were caught, only one student admitted to trying any of the drug by taking a small bite of an edible marijuana item.
The marijuana had been legally purchased by adults – grandparents in two families. The parents of the students were working with the school on disciplining the students.
Gina Carbone, who helped found the group Smart Colorado to publicize concerns about the impact on children of marijuana legalization, voiced her concern after tens of thousands publicly lit up for the annual 4/20 marijuana festival in Denver. She felt children and adults were hearing too much from marijuana proponents, and not enough about the drug's dangers.
"Pot is celebrated and glorified and promoted." Carbon said. "Kids are watching adults and this is the way adults are behaving. Here we have fourth-graders trying to make a buck off marijuana."
Dr. Scott Bentz, the medical director of emergency services at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver, said he's seen an increase in patients at the hospital who have consumed marijuana-infused products. Although the number or severity of marijuana cases does not come close to alcohol-related ones, Bentz said they show the kind of problems that can go along with edible marijuana. For those trying pot for the first time, the edibles provide easy access.
Currently, 20 states as well as Washington, D.C., allow for the sale of medical marijuana, while Washington state is set to introduce legal sales later this year. Medical marijuana is one thing but state officials need to first be aware of all the health data before considering recreational use.
By Jim Zbick