Michelle Gillett: Times change, but caution doesn't



I was 20 years old the first time I smoked marijuana. I did inhale, and then the doors to my subconscious blew open and everything behind them was right in front of me. Because the doors to my subconscious were pretty flimsy to begin with, it didn't make me feel good. Then the nice boy who shared the joint with me became very anxious that I might turn him in for possession of marijuana. The whole experiment tired me out, so I returned to my dorm room and went to sleep. It was also the last time I smoked marijuana.

That was a number of years ago, and the times they are a-changing. Colorado recently passed Amendment 64, legalizing the sale of recreational marijuana, and on New Years Day 40 state-regulated shops opened that can sell marijuana to anyone over the age of 21. Shoppers can buy up to one ounce of cannabis at a time -- an eighth of an ounce costs $40-to-$60. In the state of Washington, where the drug is already legal, stores will begin selling marijuana later this year.

Federal law prohibits the sale and use of marijuana, but the government did not challenge the legalization of drug sales in Colorado and Washington, although it does expect those states to be strict in their regulation of use of the drug. It's not that the government approves of the legalization but that things are getting complicated now that 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of marijuana.

According to a report in U.S. News and World Report, the Department of Justice has referred to marijuana as a "dangerous drug," and that its sale and distribution is "a serious crime," even though it is not interfering with Colorado and Washington's laws but rather, expecting that "states and local governments that have enacted laws authorizing marijuana-related conduct will implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address those state laws that could pose threats to public safety, public health, and other law enforcement interests. The new "marijuana enforcement policy" outlines eight enforcement areas including seeking prevention of use among minors and the spread of marijuana to states where it is still illegal, and "preventing revenue from marijuana sales from supporting criminal activity of gangs or cartels."


Obviously, there have been many debates on whether or not to legalize marijuana, with strong pros and cons on each side. Colorado and Washington have lots of figuring out to do in terms of regulating its production and sales. Colorado's Amendment 64 task force and legislature passed a 136-page set of rules that provides a model for regulation. According to an article in Slate magazine, "Blazing a Trail" by Sam Kamin and Joel Warner, "Colorado pot stores will have to grow at least 70 percent of what they sell, while the rest can come from other producers. Similarly, Colorado marijuana producers will have to retail 70 percent of what they grow; the rest can be sold to other retailers."


What concerns me is how difficult it could be to keep marijuana away from minors. As Kamin and Warner point out, there are already marijuana lollipops, candy and granola bars, and sodas "currently sold at Colorado marijuana dispensaries. While a pot lollipop's THC content isn't going to cause anyone serious harm, no one wants the headlines that would come with a bunch of kids getting marijuana highs along with their sugar rush. That's why, along with other labeling requirements such as usage instructions, ingredient lists, pesticides and chemicals used, and various warnings, marijuana products will be required to display a marijuana-related "universal symbol" that children who can't yet read will understand."

While law-makers are working out the details of regulating legalized pot -- from designing a universal symbol to how to determine what constitutes a marijuana DUI, there are other things to consider. Emma Marris wrote in a Slate article a year ago, "Marijuana is much stronger than it used to be. Lots of the strains for sale at medical marijuana dispensaries are approaching 25 percent THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound in the plant known for getting you wicked high. Sitting around a winter solstice bonfire in the Seattle area this December, I heard a woman in her 60s tell a story about her husband taking a tiny toke on a joint that was going around a dinner party, only to pass out in his chair. Another friend and her husband, in their 30s, decided to share a marijuana caramel after their daughter went to bed. They got way too stoned and entered a shared freak-out about how they would deal if she came out to ask for a glass of water."

The times they been changing a lot since I sat in that dorm room and tried pot for the first and last time. I know my old road is "rapidly agin," and I will get out of the way of the new one, but I will be standing close to the road sign that says, "Proceed With Caution."

Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.


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