They say there are three sides to every story. Let’s examine a recent one told in this publication by Luke Niforatos, the executive vice president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, on Aug. 10. His commentary claimed the state’s cannabis industry is dangerously underregulated.
For every responsible cannabis company, there is an organization with significant flaws. For every example of marijuana’s health benefits, there are stories of misuse. So, when it comes to the regulation of the cannabis industry, the benefits and the pitfalls, it’s important to address the elephant in the room: the cold hard truth.
Almost exactly 83 years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, the first federal marijuana law. Even down to the spelling of the word “marijuana,” much has changed since. Throughout the path to legalization, supporters for and businesses in the now $50 billion-plus industry have been scrutinized, particularly when it comes to its effect on the country’s youth. Whether you’re for or against the growth of the industry, the truth is absolutely somewhere in the middle.
Driven by political agendas, many numbers related to youth marijuana involvement are being misconstrued and tossed around as facts. When you see a number as massive as a 15% increase in kids 15 and younger in past-month marijuana use, red flags go up. Earlier this month, reports from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Healthy Kids Colorado Survey were drastically — and potentially intentionally — misconstrued by prohibitionist group Smart Approaches To Marijuana (SAM). The group later issued a correction to their press release.
The truth is that the 2019 rate of 15.5% is not a statistically significant increase compared to the 15.4% rate of 2013. Further, the data shows the number of youths choosing to smoke marijuana has steadily decreased over the past five years.
In 2016, legislation surrounding the limitation of potency for cannabis and cannabis products in Colorado failed. The reason: a potency cap on cannabis concentrates would push the development and sales of these products back to the underground market.
With much progress over the past decade to decriminalize and legalize marijuana into a state-regulated environment, the idea of returning any area of the industry to the underground market is not only backtracking but potentially dangerous. As we saw during the “vape crisis,” the underground market uses harmful products like Vitamin E acetate and dangerous pesticides. The regulated market is prohibited from doing so.
Many studies that report a link between marijuana use in youth and mental illness — from organizations like SAM, founded by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy — are supported by the pharma and drug rehab industries to serve their own agendas. It’s important to take note when the party reporting the data has a vested financial interest in skewing the data in a certain direction.
Regardless, while the numbers are not staggering, they’re important to note as more states consider regulating marijuana access and use. With the underground market crippled by legalization, the truth is it has become more difficult for young people to obtain marijuana in any form. We know by the number of fake IDs that we confiscate, which garnered recognition by the Boulder Police Department.
Cannabis companies hold a significant responsibility in educating consumers on responsible use and to ensure corporate responsibility. We have been working to keep cannabis out of the hands of kids for 10 years, and our work will continue. As data continues to roll in, consider all sides to the story. We owe it to ourselves, our communities and our youth to examine all of the information available to make the best decisions possible moving forward.
Nico Pento is director of government affairs for Terrapin Care Station, a Boulder-based national cannabis company.