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“Substance use in young people is a much scarier thing than it is in adults,” said Borchardt, who is president of the Minnesota Psychiatric Society, which opposes medicalizing marijuana.
The adolescent brain, she said, is still maturing, still forming connections that will regulate decisionmaking and executive functions. Substance abuse during those formative years, Borchardt said, can wreak havoc on young brains that adult users may never experience — memory impairment, lower IQs, even a higher risk for developing schizophrenia. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 9 percent of regular users become addicted, a figure that rises with use.
“Even if we aren’t prescribing [marijuana] for the teenagers, it will make it more accessible,” Borchardt said. “And it gives the impression that it’s safe.”
An industry blooms
In Denver’s Medicine Man marijuana dispensary, Elan Nelson walks through a series of indoor greenhouses. Bright green plants crowd every square inch, each tagged with a microchip traceable by police driving near the building, which sits amid a bland suburban office park. Overhead cameras pan the room, monitored by building security and the state regulators who track every seedling, every bud and every cutting, down to the last gram.
Customers in the lobby show their driver’s licenses to security at the door, then stand in lines that snake around the room, waiting to consult with staff “budtenders” about the properties of the strains on display.
“If you were to smoke a sativa, you’d still get some housework done,” Nelson said, gesturing to a tray of young plants stretching toward the grow lights. “You could vacuum, clean the windows. You’d still be able to function. With an indica, you’d be mellowed out on the couch for a few hours.” Customers pay about $50 an eighth of an ounce, depending on the strain they choose, plus 36 percent tax. Medical patients pay about half that, with an 8 percent tax.
‘This stuff will get out’
Colorado’s embrace of legal pot didn’t happen overnight. Voters opted to legalize medical marijuana in 2000. In 2012, they voted to amend the state Constitution so that anyone older than 21 could buy, possess or grow pot for recreational use.
Opponents say that is the path they fear: Sanctioned medical marijuana that builds demand and mainstream acceptance of recreational use and ends in full-scale legalization.
Even if Minnesota limited legalization to medicinal purposes only, said John Kingrey, executive director of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, “This stuff will get out.” Kingrey noted that medical marijuana from other states has found its way to his kids’ college campus in Fargo. “It will end up … in our neighborhoods.”
Denver attorney Brian Vicente, a driving force behind Colorado legalization, acknowledged that the state’s “robust and successful” medical marijuana experience helped grow public support. “We were really able to convey to citizens of our state that marijuana is a product, like any other,” he said.
Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049