In Colorado’s words: How the state is prioritizing marijuana issues

Colorado was the last of the four legal marijuana states to reply to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ July 24 letters questioning each state’s respective regulatory regimes, however the response from the state that served as a trailblazer of recreational cannabis was the most comprehensive.

Below is a snapshot of actions the state has taken in four marijuana-related priorities, as outlined in Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s Aug. 24 letter to Sessions.

Diversion of marijuana: Colorado implemented inventory control and enforcement mechanisms such as a seed-to-sale tracking system; however, the primary source of marijuana flowing out of state has been “abusive residential marijuana cultivation activities that take place under the guise of lawful medical marijuana production.”

To combat this, the state in partnership with federal agencies is cracking down on illegal marijuana rings; lowering plant counts and increasing state funding to enhance enforcement efforts; going after doctors who recommend high plant counts without sufficient evidence of medical necessity; and, to come later this year, pursuing additional resources to help “eradicate abusive personal cultivation practices.”

Preventing use by minors: Multiple data sources — Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, Monitoring the Future survey in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health — show that youth marijuana use in Colorado since legalization has remained stable.

“While these studies are encouraging, we remain committed to preventing and reducing youth marijuana use in Colorado,” they wrote. “To date, we have appropriated more than $22 million in marijuana tax revenue to our marijuana public education campaigns. … We have also used marijuana tax revenue to fund a host of programs aimed at addressing issues associated with youth drug use, including dropout prevention, after-school programs, youth mentoring, bullying prevention, and additional behavioral health professionals in schools.”

Additionally, regulatory provisions requiring age verification at businesses’ points of entry and sale help prevent youth access.

Motor vehicle crash fatalities: The state quickly established legal marijuana driving limits, trained thousands of officers on laws and provided millions to fund education efforts.

And while the state has seen a decline in the number of drivers considered impaired by marijuana, challenges in this area include gaps in data — including the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Trafficking Area report cited by Sessions — and unproven detection technology.

“CDOT is working closely with coroners to improve reporting mechanisms so that levels of active THC are consistently reported. However, at this time, a positive test does not necessarily indicate impairment. We would welcome the opportunity to work with you to develop more reliable detection technology to enhance our public safety and enforcement efforts.”

Emergency department visits and exposures: The initial increase in emergency department visits are attributed to a variety of factors: health professionals’ greater willingness to inquire and report about patients’ marijuana use; unsafe consumption of edible marijuana products; and accidental ingestion.

ER visits and exposures declined since legalization and the state made several regulatory changes — including adding warning symbols on marijuana products and barring kid-friendly shapes and the use of “candy” or “candies.”