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Frequently Asked Questions

There's a lot of misinformation out there about high potency THC. Knowing the truth is empowering.
It’s just weed. I used it when I was a teenager. What’s the concern?

The marijuana of past decades was no stronger than 5% THC. It had a low chance of being addictive and didn’t cause psychosis or long-term mental health issues. Since Colorado legalized marijuana in 2000, THC potency has increased astronomically – up to 99% in concentrated products available in dispensaries now. These are hard drugs. High-THC edibles, vaping, and dabbing are much more addictive. They can do significant, long-term damage to developing brains. This is settled science.

I have heard there are no studies to prove that THC is addictive. Is there data to prove otherwise?

Yes. Researchers and physicians accept that marijuana use can lead to the development of ,Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD), which can take the form of addiction. According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, some 30% of marijuana users have some degree of cannabis use disorder. People who begin using marijuana before the age of 18 are four to seven times more likely to develop a cannabis use disorder than adults.

What is dabbing?

Dabbing is the act of consuming high-THC cannabis concentrates through rapid combustion, and requires a high heat source like a blowtorch. A ‘dab’ refers to a single portion of a concentrated THC product. Dabbing generally uses extracted tetrahydrocannabinol (THC - the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) resin but can contain other components such as cannabidiol (CBD) and terpenes. The resin can come in different forms, including oil and wax-like or hard solids.

What is shatter?

Shatter is a popular form of high-potency THC concentrate, made by extracting THC from cannabis flower and rendering it into a crystalline, amber form. Over the past decade, shatter has gained popularity among marijuana users for its glassy, photogenic texture and high THC potency of up to 99%.

If we ban marijuana concentrates like shatter or cap THC potency, will it just go to the black market?

According to the DEA, the black market in Colorado is already flooded with these products and most of them are from dispensaries. According to the 2019 Regulated Marijuana Market Update, 17.6 metric tons of marijuana flower in the regulated market cannot be accounted for by the Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division. Potential diversion is listed as one of the causes.

Has legalizing recreational marijuana eliminated the black market?

It appears to have done just the opposite. Since legalization, Colorado has become a haven for underground marijuana cultivation, sale and export (read more). The state currently has a thriving black market industry supplying marijuana where it is banned, including to neighboring states and the many municipalities within the state that chose not to legalize. This is for several reasons. First, legal home grows make it difficult to detect and enforce illegal home grows. Next, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Colorado’s black market is driven in part by the high- potency of the marijuana produced here. Cartels from China and Cuba are operating in the Colorado black market right now. One DEA supervisor said his team “spends about 15 percent of its time on marijuana trafficking cases — a threefold increase from before legalization.” He explained that the DEA has seen greater drug trafficking organization, as well as large warehouses used to smuggle marijuana out of state.

Should we regulate marijuana similar to alcohol?

The substantial increases in THC potency demands a more thoughtful approach. Alcoholic beverages haven’t changed appreciably in recent years. By contrast, marijuana products have become exponentially more potent in the last decade and today can have little in common with what medical patients, recreational consumers, and the general public assume marijuana to be, which can be deceptive when it comes to today’s new high potency THC and its unprecedented, unsuspecting, and harmful effects. Particularly, when these products are being sold on Colorado’s legal commercial markets, which many have been led to believe means: they have been “regulated” and been shown “safe” to use, as even the state’s own marijuana educational materials publicly promote its “legal”, “safe,” and “responsible use”. To put high concentrate THC products on par with alcohol in terms of safety and addiction is contradicted by any serious consideration of the facts. Additionally, alcohol is not marketed to consumers as medicine. The public understands the risks associated with it , and there is extensive education on how much alcohol at what proof leads to impairment . Yet, in Colorado, highly potent marijuana is marketed as medicine, and sold in medical dispensaries without scientific evidence for its safety or efficacy. Nor is there adequate transparency and enough consumer information and disclosures including adequate packaging requirements, of the impacts of today’s high potency THC and the consumption of highly concentrated amounts, whether it’s being sold to a medical patient, an adult using it for recreational purposes, or for the general public so they can be sufficiently informed of the actual products being sold, delivered, and consumed in their neighborhoods. This causes confusion, leading young people to believe it is safe.

Is there an informative example of alcohol regulation?

Yes. Alcohol concentrations and formulations are regulated for public safety. For example, when the malt liquor brand Four Loko by Phusion Products was introduced as a 24-ounce beverage combining alcohol with caffeine, regulators acted decisively. The original product was marketed as an “energy drink” and contained 12 percent alcohol (malt liquor) and 156 milligrams of caffeine (about four cups of coffee). Regulators noticed a marked increase in young people who had consumed the product presenting in emergency rooms with extreme symptoms of intoxication. The product was banned in several states. Eventually, Phusion reintroduced Four Loko without caffeine, taurine, and guarana as ingredients. The company can no longer market Four Loko as an energy drink.

I’ve heard marijuana doesn’t impact people’s ability to drive.

Marijuana-impaired driving kills, and fatalities in Colorado have increased substantially since legalization:

  1. Since recreational marijuana was legalized in 2013, traffic deaths in which drivers tested positive for marijuana increased 135% while all Colorado traffic deaths increased 24%.

  2. Since recreational marijuana was legalized, traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana more than doubled from 55 in 2013 to 129 people killed in 2019.

  3. This equates to one person killed every 3 1/2 days in 2019 compared to one person killed every 6 1/2 days in 2013.

  4. Since recreational marijuana was legalized, the percentage of all Colorado traffic deaths that were marijuana related increased from 15% in 2013 to 25% in 2019.

Isn’t potency already regulated?

No, potency is not regulated. There are regulations about how much active THC can be in an individual serving in the recreational market only. THC content must be listed on the packaging, and ingredients must be listed. However, there is no restriction on the potency of THC in a product. There is currently no health or safety standard or testing that a high-potency THC manufacturer needs to go through to prove that their products are safe for consumption or will not cause long or short term harm. The state passed equivalency rules regarding the high-potency products and purchase limits, but there are no current regulations on potency.

What is the science to support a potency cap and at what level?

Many credible, peer reviewed, published studies show that THC potency above ~15% leads to an increase in addiction, psychosis, depression, violence and suicidality.

Isn’t the marijuana industry already highly regulated?

From a business perspective, yes. But gaping holes exist in the regulatory framework pertaining to public health and teen access. The drug itself is not regulated at all for health, safety or efficacy, as the industry points out on the packaging of its products. Loopholes exist that enable Colorado teens to easily buy products that have proven to seriously harm developing brains.

What is the difference between medical and recreational marijuana?

Nothing. Both medical and recreational marijuana come from the same plant and are sold in the same stores. There is no scientific difference at all between the two classifications. However, the medical and retail (or recreational) marketplaces are regulated and taxed differently.

I thought a person had to be 21 to purchase marijuana. How are teens getting access to these products?

Young people between 18-20 can obtain a medical marijuana card with virtually no scrutiny or parental consent or knowledge. All it takes is a quick appointment with a doctor often found on the Internet, who seldom has a relationship with the patient. A Colorado medical card is NOT a prescription for a particular kind of marijuana over a given time period for a specific condition. It is in fact a green light to buy anything and everything sold in a dispensary. Many 18 year olds are still in high school. Among Colorado teenagers, it is known as a rite of passage: Turn 18, get a medical card, supply friends. Marijuana resales through social media apps like Snapchat are rampant (ask any teenager in a legal municipality). Shoulder-tap sales, in which young people pay homeless adults to purchase marijuana on their behalf, are also widespread. Unlike alcohol, marijuana comes in small packaging and is easily concealed. Edibles have no scent; vapes can be placed in a pocket.

The industry touts a ID compliance rate of 98% inside of dispensaries. Isn’t that the extent of their responsibility?

Industry representatives insist they are doing their part by adhering to ID enforcement inside dispensaries. But young people in Colorado don't need a fake ID to buy high-potency THC products at a moment’s notice. Two serious issues are at play. First, 18-year-olds with medical cards can buy up to 2 ounces or its equivalent of concentrate or edible grams of high-potency THC drugs daily (a large amount). They then become social resellers of these drugs to their younger peers. This is thought to be the most prevalent pipeline of high-THC drugs into Colorado high schools. Second, marijuana dispensaries in Colorado have zero ability to track multiple-dispensary purchases (looping), which enables illicit sellers of all ages to easily garner supply. Anyone can buy the maximum daily amount from multiple dispensaries and there is no way to know or track this. Closing these two loopholes is well within the industry’s means. Its resistance reflects a financial interest in addicting young people early, ensuring a pipeline of long-term, daily users. It’s an insidious replay of a strategy used by the vaping and tobacco industries.

What about the impact of lost tax revenue on the state budget?

Marijuana sales create tax revenue that is here to stay. However, there are many costs that are not being calculated when we talk about the revenue brought in by the industry. Communities need to consider the cost of inadequate regulations and the need to protect public health, in addition to tax revenue. Marijuana creates costs for families and society that are not being calculated. This includes the diminished potential of Colorado’s teenagers, the health care costs of hospitals (which have seen emergency visits climb dramatically since legalization), blighted communities that become reliant on the marijuana trade, and the impacts of mental illness and addiction that high- potency THC is causing. The heartbreak and despair of lives diminished or cut short by addiction is a price many Coloradans have paid, and many more will. We must all bear the societal costs.

If we tighten regulations, will Coloradans who need medical marijuana still be able to access it? Yes. Our regulatory legislation will not impact those that have legitimate needs for medical marijuana. Patients will have more clarity from their doctors on what potency to take, what frequency, and duration. Doctors will be required to issue Authorization Orders to patients.

What is the difference between CBD and THC?

CBD (cannabidiol) is a chemical in cannabis with exciting medical promise. Both CBD and THC are psychoactive but THC is the high-inducing chemical. CBD does not create a high. The natural plant contains CBD which can offset some of the effects of THC. When the natural plant is modified to create higher THC, it makes it impossible for the plant to make CBD.

Isn’t marijuana all-natural medicine?

Since the large scale commercialization of marijuana, the plant has been genetically modified through selective breeding to achieve higher and higher levels of THC, which then prevents the plant from making CBD. Concentrates are made from a complex process that often uses carcinogens to extract the oil to create higher potency.

Isn’t the marijuana industry made up of mom and pop businesses?

The Marijuana industry is big business. Follow the money and think in terms of Big Tobacco. In Colorado, there is a large amount of consolidation happening and includes these corporate behemoths:

Altria, the company that owns Marlboro cigarettes and Juul vaping products Miracle Grow
The Koch Group-Americans for Prosperity
Columbia Care, a Canadian company that has purchased the Green Solution

We learned a great deal from Big Tobacco, and we know how this movie goes. Let’s skip the collateral damage and appropriately regulate the industry and protect our kids and communities.

Hasn’t teen marijuana use remained stagnant since Colorado legalized marijuana?

In Colorado, marijuana lobbyists will tell you that youth use has remained steady since legalization. They won't tell you that use by Colorado youth is 40% higher than the national average, and that Colorado ranks #1 in the U.S. for marijuana use among 12 - 17 year olds and 18 - 25 year olds (Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, 2020). Most disturbing is the increase in the use of high-THC concentrates (dabbing) among young teenagers. Among students who reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, 52% dabbed it, up from 34.4% — a 50% increase, according to the latest bi-annual Healthy Kids Colorado Survey of over 46,000 high school students. These drugs can severely disrupt adolescent brain development, diminishing the potential of legions of Colorado teenagers.

Note: Data-collection issues exist with the Healthy Kids Survey that limit its ability to accurately capture the scope of teen use. The survey is an opt in, both for school districts and individually for students. There are entire districts that do not participate, and many non-traditional schools do not participate. For these reasons, we believe marijuana use statistics on the survey are under counted.

Isn’t it better to have legal, licensed marijuana businesses that are required to test and label products and pay taxes?

Yes, if the regulations are adequate. But right now in Colorado, they are not. What Colorado has seen since legalization – according to the data – is more addiction, more opiate drug abuse, more crime, less social justice (with arrest rates rising for young people of color), more emergency room visits, and an explosion in black market activity. Legalization has opened a pipeline for high- potency drugs to our young people. Thoughtful, common-sense regulations are needed to address health and safety risks.

What is Cannabinoid Hyperemisis Syndrome (CHS)?

CHS is characterized by frequent bouts of nausea, intense and protracted vomiting, and severe abdominal pain. CHS often requires emergency medical attention to rehydrate patients and stop vomiting with strong intravenous drugs. CHS was once thought to be rare, but is now being seen daily in Colorado emergency rooms. Because marijuana has been so heavily marketed as medicine here, patients are often skeptical that the cause of their symptoms is cannabis. They typically undergo multiple costly and time-consuming medical investigations before diagnosis, while continuing to suffer and accumulate emergency medical bills. A 2019 study looked at the number of emergency department visits and costs of CHS to 17 patients who were diagnosed after extensive examinations, x-rays, and emergency treatment. The average was 17.9 emergency department visits, costing an average $76,920.92 per patient.

Does the data demonstrate the negative impacts of high potency products?

Yes. The link between THC potency and psychosis has generated increased concern among psychiatrists and researchers. Multiple studies have shown a persistent association between marijuana use and psychosis, including schizophrenia, with symptoms such as paranoia and hallucinations.

A study in the British medical journal The Lancet found that daily cannabis use was associated with increased first episodes of a psychotic disorder. The association was even more pronounced for stronger marijuana, with higher levels of THC.

A 2018 study in the Netherlands found that when potency went up, more people sought drug treatment, and when potency fell, so did the number of patients. The study was conducted in the Netherlands, where marijuana is legally available through “coffee shops.” The researchers examined the level of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main intoxicant in marijuana, over a 16-year period. Marijuana potency more than doubled from 8.6 percent in 2000 to 20.3 percent in 2004, which was followed by a surge in the number of people seeking treatment for marijuana- related problems. When potency declined to 15.3 percent THC, marijuana treatment admissions fell thereafter. The researchers estimated that for every 3 percent increase in THC, roughly one more person per 100,000 in the population would seek marijuana use disorder treatment for the first time. The Dutch findings are relevant to the United States because high THC marijuana products have proliferated in the wake of legalization.

Yale University conducted a comprehensive research review that considered whether people predisposed to psychosis may be more likely to use cannabis. They concluded that “... cannabis may be a component cause in the emergence of psychosis, and this warrants serious consideration from the point of view of public health policy.”

What is psychosis?

During a period of psychosis, a person's thoughts and perceptions are disturbed and the individual may have difficulty understanding what is real and what is not. Symptoms of psychosis include delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear).

Does regulating high potency THC amount to “prohibition”?

No. This legislation aims to protect the health and safety of consumers. Regulating potency and removing highly dangerous and addictive products from the market is not prohibition. It is regulation. Just as the State of Colorado saw the need to ban powdered alcohol to protect the health and safety of Colorado consumers, so too does the state need to uphold its responsibilities to the consumer when it comes to regulating high-potency THC.

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