It’s been a bad couple weeks for Colorado’s burgeoning pot industry. A small explosion in a marijuana growing facility capped off a number of recent incidents. These included harsh criticism from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Nebraska police demanding compensation for increased cross-border arrests, fourth graders busted selling pot and, most troubling, safety concerns about marijuana edibles after two deaths were tied to ingesting the products.
Some of the news is worse than others in the case of Governor Chris Christie, his strong rebuke of Colorado’s new laws may be a net loss for his state, at least in terms of publicity. Addressing the changing laws, Christie said on a radio show, “To me, it’s just not the quality of life we want to have here in the state of New Jersey and there’s no tax revenue that’s worth that.” The comment drew almost immediate scorn as many pointed to the millions the state spends arresting and incarcerating marijuana users, and also comparing the quality of life of Colorado to New Jersey is probably a rhetorical battle the governor best leave alone.
In Nebraska, state police and government officials have been grumbling about the cost of living next to a state with legalized pot. It is illegal to possess marijuana in Nebraska, and the state has had to increase the number of troopers in order the catch the growing number of lawbreakers crossing state lines: “I don’t know what it will take to get someone to stand up and do something to try to get some of our money back,” said Adam Hayward, a Sheriff in one of Nebraska’s bordering counties. Other neighboring states such as Utah and Wyoming have not made similar complaints, although they do not rule out the possibility of needing greater enforcement in the future.
Meanwhile in Greeley, Colorado, elementary school administrators have caught three ten-year-olds selling pot out of their lockers. The pot had been taken from the students’ grandparents, who legally purchased the marijuana, and no charges are expected to be filed against anyone in the incident. Parents were urged by local officials to more carefully secure their newly legal stashes.
More troubling for the Colorado industry, a number of recent incidents have had more serious consequences. Outside of a marijuana growing facility near downtown Denver, three people were treated for second-degree burns caused by the explosion of a butane tank illegally used in the extraction of THC from pot plants. Police seized all plants from the facility and possible charges for fire code violations or arson could be filed against the growing operation.
Ingesting pot edibles have also been linked to two fatal incidents. A college student from the Republic of Congo, who had never tried marijuana, ate a cookie infused with six times the recommend dosage of the drug and later jumped off a hotel balcony to his death. Denver medical examiners said “marijuana intoxication” was a factor in his death. Elsewhere, in an upscale Denver residential neighborhood, a man fatally shot his wife after eating marijuana-infused candy. His wife was on the phone with an 911 operator at the time and said her husband was hallucinating right before she was killed. He is being charged with first degree murder.
In the wake of these troubles, Colorado lawmakers are moving to increase restrictions on an already tightly restricted industry by limiting the strength of marijuana-infused edibles and requiring stricter labeling on packages and the products themselves. Industry proponents fear over regulating the new industry will cause businesses to close and urge parents to be more responsible when it comes to using marijuana and keeping it around children. Still, as many in the business point out, marijuana is much safer than other drugs such as alcohol. No cases have been reported of death by consuming marijuana alone, while the U.S. Center for Disease Control reports 1,400 deaths in Colorado last year were alcohol related.
Opinion by Andrew Elfenbein