Athenaeum speaker talks controversy of marijuana legalization in Colorado

Graphic by Meghan Joyce

Tony Mecia, a journalist from the Weekly Standard, spoke on the effects of legalizing recreational marijuana use in Colorado at a talk hosted by the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum at Claremont McKenna College Sept. 26.

Mecia said that he didn’t have a strong opinion on the recreational marijuana issue and hoped to give a talk that was fact-based and non-partisan. He conducted research in Pueblo, Colorado because of local leadership’s investment in the marijuana industry.

“They saw [marijuana] as a way to revitalize their community,” he said.

In 2014, Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana for adults at the age of 21 and up, Mecia wrote in the Weekly Standard. In his talk, he noted the recent shift in public opinion about cannabis, citing that two-thirds of adults in the United States now believe that marijuana should be legalized.

Douglas Ginsburg, who was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court 30 years ago, withdrew his nomination because of past marijuana use.

“It’s almost inconceivable to think of nowadays that that would be an issue,” Mecia said.

Mecia notes that the average concentration of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces the feeling of being high, has increased from four percent to about 20 percent since the 1990s.

“The conception of marijuana [is that] people are just smoking a joint,” Mecia said. “There are so many different types of cannabis products now. Chocolate bars, cannabis infused granola bars, candies, cookies, brownies.”

One of the concerns about marijuana legalization is the potency of its different forms. Mecia said he had interviewed Aubree Adams, a mother of an eighth grader. Adams told him that her son had become irrational, paranoid, and angry after he began using edibles and dabs, which are extremely potent and made out of of pure THC in wax form.

Adams blames the legalization of marijuana for her son’s behavior.

“[My son] wouldn’t have had access to this high-potency [marijuana] that we have just completely made accessible all throughout our community,” she told Mecia. “He wouldn’t [otherwise] have been exposed to all this normalization, glorification, commercialization [of marijuana].”

Adams is not alone in her concerns. In Pueblo schools, 68 percent of school counselors believe that marijuana use has increased in schools since legalization, Mecia said.

Doctors told Mecia not to forget that there are dangerous effects associated with marijuana consumption, especially among adolescents whose brains are still developing.

An emergency room doctor in Pueblo, Brad Roberts, told Mecia that he had seen increases in hospital visits due to marijuana use since its legalization.

“[Marijuana] is still a drug,” Mecia said. “If this was something that was being produced by tobacco companies or pharmaceutical companies and had these sort of negative effects, we’d be hearing much more about it.”

However, there are also undeniable medicinal and economic benefits to cannabis use, Mecia said. Some benefits include stimulating the appetites of people living with AIDS, combatting seizures, and reducing nerve pain.

Marijuana sales also garner a large profit. In 2016 alone, the cannabis industry boosted the Colorado economy by $36 million, according to Mecia’s article.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, which means that the health impacts have not been studied thoroughly in the United States, Mecia said. Roberts said to Mecia that researching and regulating marijuana simultaneously is “like [building] a plane while flying it.”

Police have seen an increase in a variety of crimes since the legalization of recreational marijuana, Mecia said, noting that many factors could contribute to this rise.

“It’s a new issue. How do you incorporate the opinions of everyone who’s affected by it?” he said, adding that on both sides of the cannabis debate, “Nobody feels like the current regulations are working very well.”

Olivia Truesdale contributed reporting.


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