The city is giving out licenses to the owners of 42 medical marijuana shops and growers Friday.
Denver is one of 19 municipalities and seven counties in Colorado that will allow retail sales of recreational pot to those 21 and older under voter-approved Amendment 64.
Only existing medical marijuana businesses in Denver are now allowed to make the transition to recreational sales. Of the 42 approved so far, eight are retail shops, 30 are growers and four are infused product manufacturers.
Consumers over 18 will be able to grow their own marijuana, though no more than six plants per person. They can also get it through clubs or buy up to 40 grams per month from pharmacies.
In every case, they must be registered with the government.
Conde argued that the law strikes a balance between individual liberty and public health, while also resolving the “grotesque juridical inconsistency” arising from the status quo, in which marijuana consumption is not penalized but its production and sale is.
“Another blow against social hypocrisy,” said a smiling Valeria Rubino, a 37-year-old who took part in Tuesday’s “last march.”
Opposition parties rejected the measure, as did pharmacists, who reject the idea that marijuana will now be sold in drug stores.
There is also widespread public skepticism in this small country of 3.3 million. A poll taken in September found 61 percent disapprove of the law.
Legalizing cannabis will “diminish the perception of risk and foster consumption, especially among children and adolescents,” said Senator Alfredo Solari of the opposition Colorado Party.
“Neither our government nor the rest of the world should experiment with Uruguayans,” he said.
Uruguayan psychiatrists were divided over the measure. Some argue it will help tamp down the use of more dangerous drugs, while others say it trivializes marijuana’s harmful effects.
Not all users were in favor of the law, either, with some chafing at the government controls.
“It’s invasive, because it is not up to the government to determine how much marijuana can be consumed and the quality,” said Alicia Castilla, the author of a book on “Cannabis Culture” who spent three months in jail for growing the drug at home.
In a region where the war on drugs has claimed thousands of lives, the Uruguayan initiative won the support of former Latin American presidents who served on the Global Commission on Drug Policy.
But the International Narcotics Control Board, which oversees the implementation of international treaties on drugs, has warned that it violates the Single Convention of Narcotic Drugs, adopted in 1961 by Uruguay and 185 other countries.
The government has accompanied action on the law with a publicity campaign featuring the slogan, “All drug consumption has risks.”
Conde said the law deals with an already entrenched social reality.
“Marijuana is the illegal drug that is most consumed, fundamentally by young people, one that is perceived as extremely low risk and is easily obtained,” he said.
Consumption of cannabis has doubled here in the past decade, and now accounts for 70 percent of the illegal drug consumption in Uruguay.
The government estimates that 128,000 of the country’s inhabitants smoke cannabis, though marijuana consumer associations put the number at around 200,000.
Andrew Carpentieri started smoking marijuana in ninth grade because his friends did and he wanted to be accepted. Like his peers in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he considered pot to be harmless.
Yet marijuana propelled Carpentieri on a 25-year downward spiral of drug addiction. Soon after he started, the habit took over his life. Instead of doing homework and school activities, Carpentieri only wanted to smoke pot and play video games.
“All my attention went to getting high,” Carpentieri recalls. “I became obsessed with where I could get my next sack of weed.”
By 11th grade, the above-average student’s grades had plummeted. He was suspended for smoking marijuana and never returned to school.
For Carpentieri, marijuana proved to be a gateway drug to more addictive substances, from alcohol to cocaine. Along with his user friends, he mixed marijuana with different mind-altering substances.
“Marijuana opened my mind to accept all forms of drugs,” Carpentieri says. “I thought it was OK to experiment with other things.”
Eventually he wound up hooked on crack cocaine for 13 years.
Carpentieri’s plight is typical, according to Stuart Holderness, a doctor and licensed drug counselor in Tulsa, Okla.
Holderness says marijuana becomes habit-forming for a lot of people. Those who continue to use it often find they lack motivation and deny how the drug is impacting them.
“It has the potential to become a higher priority than any other activity,” Holderness says. “It pushes out other things that are more important: work, family, relationships, even hygiene. They become dependent on it to feel OK—or to not feel horrible.”
“Our experience at Teen Challenge is that marijuana is a gateway drug leading to harder and more damaging drugs,” Smart says. “Well over half our students indicate the first drug they really were involved with was marijuana.”
Despite evidence to the contrary, more Americans are convinced that pot—which has been the most commonly abused illegal drug since the late 1960s—isn’t a problem.
In 1973, Oregon became the first state to make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a misdemeanor; 16 other states have followed with similar decriminalization laws. In 1996, California became the first state to sanction medical marijuana, and 17 other states have gone along with that approach.
Physicians have the leeway to recommend marijuana as a treatment for patients of various illnesses from headaches to insomnia. Medical marijuana dispensaries are big business, dealing in products ranging from drug-laced brownies to infused lemonade.
Last November, voters in Washington and Colorado approved the legal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for private recreational use for those 21 and older.
These liberalized laws have coincided with an evolution in individual beliefs. In 1969, just 12 percent of Americans favored legalizing pot, according to a Gallup poll. As recently as 2005, only one-third thought it should be lawful, Gallup reported.
Yet a Pew Research Center poll in April showed for the first time a majority of Americans—52 percent—supported pot legalization. Pew Research indicates 48 percent of Americans say they have tried marijuana, with 12 percent using in the past year.
With two states legalizing recreational marijuana already and 11 additional state legislatures currently contemplating legalizing pot either for medicinal or recreational use, drug abuse experts believe more people will become addicted. As happened with the legalization of once-stigmatized casino gambling, starting in the 1990s, lawmakers around the country may seek to tax marijuana in an effort to raise state revenue.
Annually, 660,000 people in the United States are arrested for marijuana possession. However, many people believe locking drug users behind bars is a waste of time. A Gallup poll last December found nearly two-thirds of Americans are against the federal government taking steps to enforce anti-marijuana laws.
The fact remains, marijuana use is illegal under federal law. Since 1970, marijuana has been classified under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I drug, along with LSD and heroin. In January, a U.S. appeals court rejected a lawsuit to reclassify marijuana from its status as a dangerous drug with no accepted medical use.
Nevertheless, marijuana (or cannabis) is easier to obtain than ever. Marijuana can be taken orally, mixed in food, or smoked in concentrated form as hashish. Primarily it is consumed by smoking in rolled cigarettes called joints.
Fay notes government agencies, including the NIH, Food and Drug Administration, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, all have published reports showing the addictive nature of marijuana.
Marijuana can stunt intellectual development, especially in adolescents. Studies show marijuana use is linked to the onset of mental illness among those who start using while young.
“To damage the brain with a drug that serves no useful purpose other than getting people high is very disturbing,” Fay says. “When the brain is harmed, sometimes it can’t be undone.”
“Marijuana actually has more potentially damaging chemicals to affect the lungs than a tobacco cigarette,” Smart says.
The amount of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana plants that is the primary cause of its high, has increased eightfold from a couple of generations ago.
Since the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries, Fay says states have seen increased incidents of impaired driving, workplace accidents, and visits to emergency rooms due to pot use.
“This is not about medicine,” Fay says. “This is the selfish agenda of making drugs socially acceptable to get high—at the cost of our children.”
Further legalization will embolden an already entrenched black market to exploit youth in venues such as human trafficking, Fay predicts.
“The remaining market will be our children,” Fay says. “We are fooling ourselves if we think legalizing drugs is not going to be extremely detrimental to our children.”
Drug abuse experts are convinced the number of addicts will grow as more states legalize recreational and medical marijuana.
“Just as kids get into parents’ liquor cabinets or beer in the fridge, kids will sneak into their parents’ pot stash,” Smart says. “The government stamp of approval will only increase the number of people who have drug problems.”
“It cannot be legalized and kept out of the hands of children,” Fay says. “Tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs are proof of this.”
Police officers are leery of making an arrest in states where marijuana has been legalized for recreational or medical reasons because it is difficult to prove excess. While most prescription drugs limit the number of pills allowed, Smart says marijuana prescriptions are open-ended.
Holderness says illegality does serve as a deterrent for many people who don’t want to risk arrest. With potential consequences removed, experimentation—especially among underage youth—certainly will increase. Likewise, those who already struggle with addiction may believe the risks for obtaining pot have disappeared.
“One of the rationales for legalizing marijuana is, ‘We’ve lost the war against drugs, so why keep it up,’ ” Smart says. “We’re not winning the war against poverty either, but nobody is suggesting we stop trying.”
“If we’re going to keep kids from using, we need to show kids that drugs are harmful,” Fay says. “When kids perceive drugs to be risky, they are less likely to use.”
Dean Curry is pastor of Life Center (Assemblies of God) in Tacoma, Wash., one of the most liberal cities in one of America’s most liberal states. He says there long has been a preponderance of local residents who view smoking marijuana as akin to having a glass of wine after dinner. Curry has addressed the issue from the pulpit.
“It’s wonderful I can present truth to a community that at every opportunity has voted against any kind of restraint,” Curry says. “It’s a privilege to be able to talk to people who clearly and consistently say they don’t want any restraint on our behavior.”
Curry, invoking comparisons of past laws curbing the freedoms of African-Americans, has taken the opportunity to point out that just because something is legal doesn’t necessarily make it moral.
“God’s Law and God’s love trump whatever legislation is going on outside these church doors,” Curry says. “Public opinion is always a sloppy way to form your moral code because it changes all the time.”
Instead, Curry points to Scripture, and asks congregants if they see anywhere in God’s Word where followers are granted permission to relinquish control of their life to any substance. Curry says drugs promise peace, but don’t deliver.
“People want to know what the moral problem is with this,” Curry says. “The core issue is this: You’re giving away the locus of control to something that is a counterfeit spirit.”
Nationwide, only 32 percent of Americans believe smoking marijuana is morally wrong according to Pew Research, a substantial drop from half the population who thought so in 2006.
While Fay sees marijuana usage primarily as a health problem and public safety issue, she also acknowledges there are moral undertones. Some who smoke marijuana violate their moral beliefs because they act differently when their mind is impaired, for instance in letting their guard down sexually with a casual acquaintance.
A Way Out
For Andrew Carpentieri, drug use had implications for him as well as for his family. He says stressed-out relatives lost their jobs, finances and health trying to help him. Carpentieri says for two decades he manipulated his mother, and she enabled him. Ultimately, she cut off all ties with her son.
“I burned all my bridges; nobody would help me anymore,” Carpentieri says. “Family members all changed their phone numbers.”
Two years ago, Carpentieri graduated from Central Florida Teen Challenge in Sanford, and he now is the admissions counselor at the center. Carpentieri, 42, says giving up his will to Christ turned out to be the only way he could stop using drugs.
“I had always wanted to hold back a certain part of my life, and that was the problem,” says Carpentieri, who earned his GED diploma and has reconciled with his mother. “Everything had to change. Christ wanted my whole life.”
CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, acknowledged on Thursday that he has changed his mind about medical marijuana and apologized for not looking “hard enough” at the facts until now.
“I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis,” penned Gupta on CNN.com.
Gupta will host a documentary titled “WEED” at 8 p.m. (Eastern) on Sunday, for which he traveled around the world to interview medical experts, marijuana growers, and patients.
“I spoke candidly to them, asking tough questions. What I found was stunning,” he said, noting that he had even authored an anti-medical-marijuana article for Time back in 2009 that was titled, “Why I would Vote No on Pot.”
Gupta said he “mistakenly believed” the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency acted on the basis of “sound scientific proof” in listing marijuana as a schedule 1 substance and that he was misled by “high-visibility malingerers, just looking to get high.”
He said that marijuana doesn’t have a high potential for abuse but does have “very legitimate” applications in medicine.
“In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works,” Gupta observed.
He calculated that only about 6 percent of current U.S. marijuana studies investigate the benefits of medical marijuana.
“The rest are designed to investigate harm,” he explained. “That imbalance paints a highly distorted picture.”
The legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington has led the two states to become the epicenter of a national movement to legalize the drug. It has also heightened concerns about the effect on young people.
In both states, the legal age to possess marijuana is now 21 years old but many believe that those under 21 will be able to access it more easily.
That’s a concern health-wise because pot poses a far greater threat to teens.
Dr. Christian Thurstone is the medical director of one of Colorado’s largest clinics for treating youth with substance abuse issues. He’s seen first-hand what the research shows–that 1 in 6 kids who try marijuana before the age of 18 become addicted.
“Some people think that marijuana is psychologically addictive, not physically addictive-it’s just a soft drug,” he told CBN News.
“But I can tell from personal experience that these kids who come to see us are dropping out of life. They are dropping out of school, they’re dropping out of their families, their friends-all their activities,” he said.
“It’s a time of enormous brain development,” Thurstone explained. “The very receptor that marijuana binds to in the brain is the receptor that helps control this brain development.”
A study published by the National Academy of Sciences reports that young people who start using marijuana regularly before age 18 can lose up to eight IQ points. A study published in last year’s British Medical Journal found marijuana use doubles the risk of car crashes.
Colorado educators also point to a possible link between the 2009 legalization of so-called medical marijuana and increased trouble in school.
But Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which supports legalization, said student use has gone down in Colorado since 2009. He believes that regulation is the best way to protect kids.
“Illegal drug dealers are not asking for proof of age,” he explained. “By taking it, having it behind the counter, having really strict rules on selling to minors we can better keep it out of their hands.”
MPP helped to fund and organize the Colorado and Washington legalization campaigns. It’s now targeting 14 other states to advance marijuana-friendly laws.
Smart Approach to Pot
However, a new national organization is hoping to put the brakes on that effort.
Dr. Kevin Sabet is a former senior adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy during both the Bush and Obama administrations. He’s now spearheading Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) with Thurstone and former congressman and mental health advocate Patrick Kennedy.
In a recent interview with CBN News, Sabet said the country needs to reform its current policy on drugs and move beyond both the so-called drug wars and the polarizing debate over legalization.
Like legalization supporters, Sabet agrees that the United States is far too quick to criminalize marijuana users. But he’s also not convinced that legalization is the solution.
“The problem with it is that it increases the permissiveness of the drug and it increases social acceptance,” he explained. “Why introduce another legal substance when we’re already having a hard time with our currently legal ones?”
SAM hopes to promote marijuana research to obtain FDA-approved, pharmacy-dispensed cannabis-based medications. It wants to prevent “Big Tobacco” companies from targeting marijuana to kids the way they have marketed cigarettes to youth.
SAM also hopes to educate the public and specifically, kids. CBN News recently spoke with kids at several Colorado high schools who all downplayed any physical harm associated with marijuana use.
“It’s a plant,” one kid reasoned. “You smoke it and it just gets you high. It doesn’t kill you or anything.”
Sabet said he believes that medical marijuana has led to such thinking.
“One of the reasons that kids think it’s okay is that so-called medical marijuana has softened attitudes and people think it’s a medicine, ‘It comes from the earth-how bad can it be?'” he said.
Thurstone noted that much of the research on marijuana has been published more recently and hasn’t reached the public.
“There’s a lag time between getting it out in the scientific journals and getting it out in the real world,” he said.
In the meantime, churches in Colorado and other organizations that work with youth must determine how to talk with them about marijuana and all the changes.
“Anytime a drug becomes more readily available we need to talk about it and prepare parents to have conversations with their kids,” Brady Boyd, senior pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, said.
Getting at the Root Issues
Boyd said believers are concerned about how legalization will play out, but at the same time he doesn’t want them to miss the deeper issue.
“So we’re talking internally about why are people so willing to medicate themselves,” he said. “What pain are they running from? What issues are they struggling with that causes them to go to things like marijuana?”
No one knows just how Colorado will shape its regulations or how available marijuana will become.
What’s clear is this: the nation will be watching, waiting to see what legalization means for communities and especially for their youth.
View PhotoJohn Farley, a procurement coordinator …
TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — The job description requests an unlikely mix of skills: five years of regulatory experience, with a law degree preferred, and extensive knowledge of all things marijuana.
But that didn’t stop dozens of people from turning out Wednesday — in flannel and suits, ponytails and hemp necklaces — to find out more about becoming Washington state‘s official marijuana consultant.
As officials figure out how to regulate the state’s newly legal marijuana, they’re hiring an adviser to fill in the gaps of the typical bureaucrat’s education: how cannabis is best grown, dried, tested, labeled, packaged, regulated and cooked into brownies.
The Liquor Control Board, the agency charged with developing rules for the marijuana industry, reserved a convention center hall for a state bidding expert to take questions about the position and the hiring process.
“Since it’s not unlikely with this audience, would a felony conviction preclude you from this contract?” asked Rose Habib, an analytical chemist from a marijuana testing lab in Missoula, Mont.
The answer: It depends. A pot-related conviction is probably fine, but a “heinous felony,” not so much, responded John Farley, a procurement coordinator with the Liquor Control Board.
Washington and Colorado this fall became the first states to pass laws legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and setting up systems of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores where adults over 21 can walk in and buy up to an ounce of heavily taxed cannabis.
Both states are working to develop rules for the emerging pot industry. Up in the air is everything from how many growers and stores there should be, to how the marijuana should be tested to ensure people don’t get sick.
Sales are due to begin in Washington state in December.
Washington’s Liquor Control Board has a long and “very good” history with licensing and regulation, spokesman Mikhail Carpenter said.
“But there are some technical aspects with marijuana we could use a consultant to help us with,” Carpenter said.
The board has advertised for consulting services in four categories. The first is “product and industry knowledge” and requires “at least three years of consulting experience relating to the knowledge of the cannabis industry, including but not limited to product growth, harvesting, packaging, product infusion and product safety.”
Other categories cover quality testing, including how to test for levels of THC, the compound that gets marijuana users high; statistical analysis of how much marijuana the state’s licensed growers should produce; and the development of regulations, a category that requires a “strong understanding of state, local or federal government processes,” with a law degree preferred.
Farley said the state hopes to award a single contract covering all four categories, but if no bidder or team of bidders has expertise in all fields— regulatory law, statistical analysis and pot growing — multiple contracts could be awarded. Or bidders who are strong in one category could team up with those who are strong in another. Bids are due Feb. 15, with the contract awarded in March.
Habib, the chemist, said she’s part of a team of marijuana and regulatory experts from Montana who are bidding for the contract. They’re fed up with federal raids on medical dispensaries there.
“We want to move here and make it work. We want to be somewhere this is moving forward and being embraced socially,” she said.
Khurshid Khoja, a corporate lawyer from San Francisco, wore a suit and sat beside a balding, ponytailed man in a gray sweatshirt — Ed Rosenthal, a co-founder of High Times magazine and a recognized expert on marijuana cultivation. They’re on a team bidding for the contract.
“I’ve seen the effect of regulation of marijuana all my life,” Khoja said. “I’d like to see a more rational, scientific approach to it.”
Several people asked whether winning the contract, or even subcontracting with the winning bidder, would preclude them from getting state licenses to grow, process or sell cannabis. Farley said yes: It would pose a conflict of interest to have the consultant helping develop the regulations being subject to those rules. But once the contract has expired, they could apply for state marijuana licenses, he said.
After the questions ended, the bidders mingled, exchanging business cards and talking about how they might team up. One Seattle-area marijuana grower, a college student who declined to give his name after noting that a dispensary he worked with had been raided by federal authorities in 2011, approached Rosenthal star-struck.
“It would be my dream to smoke a bowl with you after this,” he said.
A new survey shows that marijuana use among teens continues to rise – and outstrips cigarette use – thanks to the increasing perception that pot is not harmful.
A rising share of teens are smoking marijuana – a trend fueled largely by the growing perception among youths that pot use is not harmful, according to a national survey released Wednesday.
Taken together with the decision by voters in Colorado andWashington State to legalize recreational pot – as well as the continued expansion of medical marijuana – the survey points the increasing difficulty of keeping American teens away from marijuana. Indeed, a higher percentage of high school seniors are smoking marijuana monthly than cigarettes.
More than one-third of teenagers acknowledged smoking pot in the past year – continuing a five-year upward trend, the 2012 Monitoring the Future survey found. In addition, 6.5 percent of 12th-graders reported using marijuana daily – a 30-year peak.
These high levels of marijuana use are linked to a diminishing perception of its risk, according to the survey. Some 20.6 percent of 12th-graders see occasional marijuana use as harmful, while 44.1 percent see regular use as harmful. Those are the lowest rates since 1983 and 1979, respectively.
“One of the factors that contributes to people not using drugs is their illegal quality,” she said. “When you start to have a debate and you have some states where this is no longer the case, then that deterrent is no longer present.”
Ms. Volkow said that teens also perceive marijuana as less risky because it can be prescribed for medicinal purposes. This is consistent with previous survey findings on teenagers’ perceptions of prescription drugs such as Vicodin and Oxycontin, which are also seen as less harmful.
Anti-marijuana activists point to clinical evidence that suggests smoking marijuana can cause forms of brain damage, lowering IQ.
“Historically, this dip in the perception leads to increased use, and we have definitely seen that in the survey’s results,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the National Drug Control Policy office. “In fact, more students now report smoking marijuana during the past month than they do smoking cigarettes.”
Cigarette and alcohol use has steadily declined in recent years, reaching their lowest levels since the survey started tracking their use in 1975, said Lloyd Johnston, the survey’s principal investigator at the University of Michigan.
During the past year, the percentage of respondents who said they had ever used cigarettes dropped from 11.7 percent to 10.6 percent across 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-grade students. For alcohol, the percentage of respondents who said they had used alcohol dropped from 31.2 percent in 2007 to 26.7 percent in 2012 across the three grade levels, according to the survey.
“That’s a pretty dramatic change considering how acculturated a behavior as alcohol is in this culture,” Mr. Johnston said.
There has also been progress in lowering the use of illicit drugs including Ecstasy, inhalants, and Salvia. But use of prescription stimulants grew. For example, 7.6 percent of 12th-graders said they had used Adderall, up from 5.4 percent in 2009.
“Each new generation of young people deserves the chance to achieve its full potential, unencumbered by the obstacles placed in the way by drug use,” Mr. Kerlikowske said in a press release. “These long-term declines in youth drug use in America are proof that positive social change is possible. But now more than ever we need parents and other adult influencers to step up and have direct conversations with young people about the importance of making healthy decisions. Their futures depend on it.”
Monitoring the Future is the largest government-sponsored survey of youth drug use. This year, more than 45,000 students from 395 public schools participated in the survey, which is conducted by the University of Michigan and sponsored by the National Institutes for Health and NIDA.