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Haley Andrews restocked shelves with packages of marijuana-infused candies at the LoDo Wellness Center in Denver.

Matthew Staver • New York Times,

Legal weed creates snags and doubts in Colorado

  • Article by: Jack Healy
  • New York Times
  • May 31, 2014 - 5:10 PM

– Five months after Colorado became the first state to allow recreational marijuana sales, the battle over legalization is still raging.

Law enforcement officers in Colorado and neighboring states, emergency room doctors and legalization opponents increasingly are highlighting a series of recent problems as cautionary lessons for other states flirting with loosening marijuana laws.

There is the Denver man who, hours after buying a package of marijuana-infused Karma Kandy from one of Colorado’s new recreational marijuana shops, began raving about the end of the world and then pulled a handgun from the family safe and killed his wife, the authorities say. Some hospital officials say they are treating growing numbers of children and adults sickened by potent doses of edible marijuana. Sheriffs in neighboring states complain about stoned drivers streaming out of Colorado and through their towns.

“I think, by any measure, the experience of Colorado has not been a good one unless you’re in the marijuana business,” said Kevin Sabet, executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization. “We’ve seen deaths directly attributed to marijuana legalization.”

Lag in health data

Despite such anecdotes, there is scant hard data. Because of the lag in reporting many health statistics, it may take years to know legal marijuana’s effect — if any — on teenage drug use, school expulsions or fatal car crashes.

It was only in January, for example, that the Colorado State Patrol began tracking the number of people pulled over for driving while stoned. Since then, marijuana-impaired drivers have made up about 1.5 percent of all citations for driving under the influence.

Proponents of legalization argue that the critics are cherry-picking anecdotes to tarnish a young industry that has been flourishing under intense scrutiny.

The majority of the state’s medical and recreational marijuana stores are living up to stringent rules, they say. The industry has generated $12.6 million in taxes and fees so far.

Marijuana supporters note that violent crimes in Denver — where the bulk of Colorado’s pot retailers are — are down so far this year. The number of robberies from January through April fell by 4.8 percent from the same time in 2013, and assaults were down by 3.7 percent.

“Every major institution said this would be horrible and lead to violence and blood in the streets,” said Brian Vicente, an author of Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana in Colorado. “None of that’s happened. The sky did not fall.”

Edible products a problem

Colorado’s starkest problems with legal marijuana stem from pot-infused edible treats.

On Colorado’s northern plains, a fourth-grader showed up on the playground one day in April and sold some of his grandmother’s marijuana to three classmates. The next day, one of those students returned the favor by bringing in a marijuana edible he had swiped from his own grandmother.

“This was kind of an unintended consequence of Colorado’s new law,” said John Gates, the district’s director of school safety and security. “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.”

© 2014 Star Tribune