Pot brownies have been the punchline of countless stoner jokes. But they're no laughing matter in Colorado.
Last month, a 19-year-old college student from Wyoming fell to his death after eating marijuana-laced cookies and jumping off the hotel he was staying at. The student, Levy Thamba, was visiting Denver with friends to try out Colorado's marijuana offerings. Thamba's death was the first one the Denver coroner's office categorized as caused by marijuana edible intoxication.
It's not just college students who are at risk of intoxication by ingesting dangerous edibles. One Colorado study from last year found a marked uptick in the number of young children who received medical treatment after accidentally eating marijuana-laced treats.
That's why the Colorado Legislature is working to impose stricter standards on the marijuana edibles that are sold in dispensaries across the state. On Wednesday, the state House voted unanimously to study whether edibles stamped with child warnings and given uniform colors or shapes made a difference in illegal consumption. Edibles are already required to be sold in opaque, childproof packaging with a warning that the food contains marijuana.
In January, Colorado became the first state in the country to allow persons 21 and older to buy marijuana from state dispensaries for recreational use. Edibles make up 20 to 40 percent of marijuana sales in the state. As the law currently stands, the individually packaged edibles that dispensaries sell can contain up to 10 times the "recommended serving" of THC to get intoxicated.
It's more difficult to regulate edibles for THC — the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana — than in the marijuana buds that dispensaries sell.
It's also harder to self-regulate your intake, since THC can be much more concentrated in one pot brownie compared to smoking a joint. Unlike smoking marijuana, which takes effect almost immediately, it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours for edible marijuana to kick in. If users eat too much of an edible, too quickly, they can easily overindulge.
Colorado residents are experimenting — in both the personal and legal sense. The state, along with Washington, is a testing ground to see whether marijuana legalization will be feasible in other parts of the country. States like Arizona and Alaska, along with the District of Columbia, are considering laws to legalize recreational marijuana.
If more states follow Colorado's lead, they'll be able to learn from its mistakes.