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Legalized Marijuana is Putting a Generation of Kids at Risk.  Will Minnesota Follow Colorado?

Admittedly I may not be the best person to write about this topic as my personal experience in this area is limited to two thinly-related events in my life.  As a seven-year-old I took one of my grandma’s smokes into the car but couldn’t figure out how to make the non-flame cigarette lighter light the cigarette.  I ended up producing a flame by lighting a Wrigley’s silver gum wrapper and only succeeded in burning my fingers.  In middle school when classmates were starting to chew tobacco, I tried to demonstrate a better, safer way toward full flavor by bringing a “tin” of Starkist to school and putting a pinch of tuna between my cheek and gums.

As marijuana legalization is seemingly sweeping the county (Michigan’s November referendum could make the first Midwest state to legalize) the Weekly Standard has a good piece on legalization pioneer Colorado’s experience, which in 2014 became the first of eight states to legalize the drug to any adult over 21.  Now there are now more “dispensaries” in Colorado than MacDonald’s and Starbucks combined.

Nowhere are the results of this experiment being felt more than in Pueblo, a small city of 108,000 about two hours south of Denver. Pueblo is an old working-class steel town largely left out of the prosperity of Denver and the state’s famous ski resorts. With nearly 200 legal marijuana farms, Pueblo is at the forefront of the state’s rapidly expanding pot industry. Marijuana has become big business. It is creating jobs, harnessing the energies of young entrepreneurs, raising millions in new tax revenues, attracting visitors to town, and giving residents more personal freedom.

But that’s not the end of the story. Some residents here believe these achievements are coming at too high a cost. Legalization, they say, has attracted vagrants and cartels from out-of-state, contributed to spikes in crime, and endangered the health of a generation of kids raised to believe the drug is harmless. A new study from Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Institute of Cannabis Research portrays the effects of legalization as mixed at best—far from the unqualified success that marijuana boosters like to project.

Benefits and Side Effects

Most people know that marijuana has at least some documented medical benefits—such as reducing eye pressure in glaucoma patients, stimulating the appetites of people suffering from AIDS, combatting seizures, and reducing nerve pain. But far less publicized is that marijuana is increasingly being found to have side effects, too. In 2016, when Pueblo voted on whether to allow dispensaries, 237 local physicians signed a statement of opposition.

One of the most dangerous effects, doctors say, is psychosis. Of course, not everybody who uses weed experiences psychotic episodes. But studies suggest that the risk is especially acute among adolescents, whose brains are still developing. Regular marijuana use while young has been linked to schizophrenia.

Scromiting

Marijuana-related traffic fatalities have doubled since legalization, more and more expectant mothers and newborns are testing positive for marijuana in their system, and emergency rooms are are showing the dangers of Colorado’s marijuana laws.

Doctors in Colorado are also reporting a newer affliction, called cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome; it is known colloquially as “scromiting,” because its symptoms consist of simultaneous screaming and vomiting. The condition is little understood but seems to be most prevalent among long-term marijuana users. [Dr.] Roberts estimates he sees a case of it in Pueblo every week.

Black Market for Weed

One of legalization’s goals was the elimination of a thriving black market for marijuana but police say that has not happened.

[Narcotics Officer Sgt. Daniel] Anderson says that with so much marijuana being grown around town, illegal marijuana sales are thriving. An ounce of marijuana at a dispensary costs around $120, he says. He asks a narcotics officer in a nearby cubicle how much marijuana is going for on the street, and within 30 seconds, the officer has printed out three ads from Craigs­list Pueblo’s “health and beauty” section. They indicate buds are selling for about one-third the price they go for at dispensaries.

“If I want my high, why would I spend $120 if I could get it for $40?” Anderson says.

Asked what he would say to communities considering legalizing marijuana, Anderson says: “Tell people to stop legalizing it. It will do more damage than you can understand.”

Anne Stattelman’s advice is simpler: “Don’t. It’s changed our city. It’s changed everything about our community.”

Just a few things to keep in mind as the legalization campaign comes to Minnesota in the coming years.

Peter Zeller is Director of Operations at Center of the American Experiment.

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