Rachel O'Bryan

Rachel O'Bryan

Joey Bunch's column (“Colorado Springs faces choice about going to pot,” June 8) rightly points out how Colorado Springs has a target on its back, just like Moby Dick, the legendary white whale sought by Captain Ahab.

Why? Because the marijuana industry in Colorado wants desperately to “catch” Colorado Springs with marijuana commercialization, just like it did other whales along the Front Range: Denver, Pueblo and Boulder.

So far, Colorado Springs and many other Colorado communities have avoided the harpoon. When Colorado voters passed Amendment 64 back in 2012, the personal right to grow and use marijuana for any reason vested upon all citizens 21 and older across the entire state. 

What wasn’t automatic was the commercialization of marijuana through stores, cultivation centers and product manufacturers. This important power was left to local control and many local communities have opted out.

In fact, according to the Colorado Municipal League, over 70% of local municipalities do not have adult-use marijuana commercialization. 

Here are some reasons for Colorado Springs to dive deep and avoid the reach of the marijuana industry.

Colorado Springs can expect a doubling of its sales outlets should it approve commercialization. 

Bunch implies that allowing commercialization won’t change the status quo. He compares the 128 medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado Springs to the 167 adult-use recreational stores in Denver. This is an apples-to-oranges comparison that fails to consider that adult-use stores do not replace medical stores; rather, they supplement those and just add to the outlet density. 

As of June 11, Denver Excise & License reports 170 adult-use store licenses in addition to 163 medical marijuana store licenses. Denver is now known for having more pot shops than McDonalds and Starbucks combined. 

Moreover, there are myriad other licenses that will come with commercialization. These businesses stock the stores and the industry will demand that those be permitted as well. Presently, Denver has 198 cultivation centers, warehouses plumbed and amped for year-round indoor growing cycles. Denver also has 95 marijuana-infused products manufacturers. 

Today’s commercialized marijuana has little to do with a natural plant. Instead, manufacturers distill THC, the high-inducing ingredient from the marijuana plant, to potency levels far beyond anything ever seen in nature. Then they place this concentrate into vape pens, asthma inhalers, dissolvable powders and mouth sprays, in addition to cookies, brownies and candies. 

These ultra-potent THC products, some approaching 90% THC, haven’t been adequately studied or proven safe.  

Predictably many of these radically new, ultra-potent products make their way into the hands of kids, who can easily hide these products at home and school. The sweet-flavored edibles appeal to young palates. 

The children suffer harm from the commercialization and normalization of this drug. The U.S. Surgeon General recently said that no amount of marijuana use is safe for the developing brain of an adolescent.   

Where there is more marijuana commercialization there is more youth use. Research out of California shows that young people aged 18-22 who live in neighborhoods with more sales outlets and storefront signage use marijuana more frequently than their peers and have a more positive view of the drug. 

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, who opposes recreational marijuana sales, stated in Bunch’s column that, despite promises it would eliminate the black market, commercialization has not kept marijuana out of the hands of kids. We can just look at the Springs’ neighbors to the north and south for confirmation of this statement. 

According to the last Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, Denver and Pueblo high school students are more likely than Colorado Springs students to have tried marijuana; it is also easier for them to get. 

Colorado Springs students, who are not bombarded with the marketing that accompanies commercialization, have a higher perception of harm from use than do their neighbors. A low perception of harm is a key indicator of future use. 

The survey also showed a statistically significant increase across the state in youth use of edibles and ultra-potent concentrates. These are the dangerous new products produced by the legal market, as acknowledged by a state-funded report

More stores and outlet density, more dangerously potent products, more harm to kids. Swim away, Colorado Springs! 

Rachel O’Bryan is a co-founder of Smart Colorado, the only nonprofit organization focused on protecting the health, safety and well-being of youth as marijuana becomes increasingly available and commercialized.

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