I live in Denver, where marijuana dispensaries outnumber pharmacies, liquor stores, McDonald’s and Starbucks. When I walk and drive the streets of this beautiful Rocky Mountain city, I often encounter the smell of marijuana smoke. Marijuana users are not allowed to smoke openly and publicly, but a bench in the front yard is considered private property, allowing the smell to pollute the clean mountain air.
The problems in Colorado began 14 years ago with the passage of Amendment 20 legalizing medical marijuana. Abuse and fraud flourished under its provisions because medical marijuana became easily available for recreational use.
In November, Florida voters will be faced with the choice to legalize marijuana for “medical use.” Voters should instead ask themselves whether they want marijuana legalized in Florida for recreational use. That’s essentially what Amendment 2 will do. The amendment is so flawed that if it passes, medical marijuana will be readily available for anyone who wants to obtain it.
Like Colorado, Florida’s Amendment 2 allows “Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers” to develop edibles. These food products have been developed intentionally to allow discreet consumption of marijuana in public places, at schools and in the workplace, and to introduce the product to a larger – younger – consumer base.
In Colorado, marijuana is sold in soda, salty snacks like nuts, granola bars, breakfast cereals, cookies, rice cereal treats, cooking oil and even salad dressing. Some companies buy commercially available children’s candies like Swedish fish, Sour Patch Kids, lollipops or lemon drops and infuse them with marijuana. Others make chocolate bars, Tootsie Rolls and truffles. So now in Colorado, parents who once taught their children not to take candy from a stranger must tell their children not to take candy from a friend because it could very well contain marijuana. Our emergency rooms report a striking increase in children who have unintentionally ingested marijuana edibles and require medical treatment.
Florida’s Amendment 2 allows for any medical condition, not just terminal, chronic or debilitating conditions, to qualify for marijuana treatment, as long as “a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.” This exception will result in patients who use marijuana to get high, despite the stated intention of the amendment to prohibit such conduct.
Colorado’s marijuana patient registry statistics show that only 1 percent of patients list HIV/AIDS; 2 percent, seizures; and 3 percent, cancer. A whopping 94 percent of those using “medical marijuana” claim to have “severe pain,” a subjective and unverifiable condition.
Sixty-six percent of users are male with an average age of 41, despite severe pain being a condition more closely associated with older, female patients. In Denver, it is common to see young, 20-something able-bodied men flocking to medical marijuana centers Friday and Saturday nights to get their “medicine.” Since outright legalization in 2012 for all persons 21 or older, Colorado has seen an explosion of medical marijuana patients between 18-20 years old.
Moreover, the long-term health implications from youth marijuana use are troubling. A longitudinal study found an association between weekly marijuana use by persons under the age of 18 and permanent decline in IQ.
You might think Florida won’t go as far as Colorado and Washington, but it will be one step closer. Every state that passes medical marijuana laws believes they will be able to correct the errors of those who have paved the way. This has yet to be accomplished.
The Colorado experiment is failing our children, and so will Florida’s. Coloradans may not be able to go back in time, but you can stop yours before it starts.
Rachel O’Bryan is a Colorado resident and an attorney who spent 18 months serving at the request of Governor John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Department of Revenue to aid in the development of recreational marijuana legislation and regulation. She is a founding member of SMART Colorado, a citizen-led nonprofit that protects Colorado kids from the unintended negative consequences of legalizing marijuana for recreational use.