Media Release: Stakes rise for kids as five states approve commercial marijuana sales

For the five states that approved commercial marijuana sales on Nov. 3, the focus must turn to limiting harm to kids, according to the nonprofit that fought for youth protections in Colorado after it became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana.

This election cycle, Arizona, South Dakota, Montana, New Jersey and Mississippi put commercial marijuana legalization on the ballot; voters approved the measures in all five states. Mississippi’s measure was for medical marijuana sales while the other four states approved recreational marijuana sales. 

The measures were bankrolled largely by those poised to profit from commercial marijuana sales. 

Proponents raised almost $19.8 million, mostly from out of state interests, while the opposition campaigns raised less than $1.3 million, mostly from individuals.

“Sadly, those of us in Colorado know that marijuana industry profits too often come at a high cost for kids,” said Diane Carlson, a co-founder of One Chance to Grow Up ( One Chance to Grow Up is a national project of Smart Colorado, which was formed by local parents to protect kids after recreational marijuana sales were legalized in 2012. 

Despite some significant successes in adding safeguards for kids, Colorado is seeing more Colorado young people using ultra-potent marijuana products and using marijuana much more frequently.

One Chance to Grow Up recommends that legislators and regulators in states that legalize marijuana approve:

  • Limits on potency and prohibitions on kid-friendly products
  • Marijuana free zones around schools and other places kids gather 
  • Strict limits on marketing and advertising that could influence kids
  • Clear warnings and disclosures on labels and at stores, including potency information
  • Child-resistant packaging
  • Education and prevention funding for youth and pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Data collection to monitor and respond to impacts on kids

“The real work begins now to protect kids and communities. We’ve learned in our work advocating for kids since marijuana was legalized in Colorado that it’s important to stand up to the well-funded and aggressive industry lobbying tactics,” Carlson added.  “We can’t afford to be naïve. If our elected officials don’t hear from concerned parents and citizens, critical safeguards won’t be enacted.”   

“Legal marijuana today has little to do with the plant some adults may remember. The focus now is the manufacture and sale of highly concentrated THC, the high-inducing ingredient in marijuana linked to negative effects, including harm to growing brains.” said One Chance to Grow Up co-founder Rachel O’Bryan.

Colorado stores promote concentrated THC hidden in dissolvable powders (which can turn any drink into an intoxicant), asthma inhalers, USB devices, mouth sprays and breath mints, in addition to cookies, brownies and candies.

These radically new products appeal to kids, who can easily conceal them at home and school. The sweet-flavored edibles entice young palates — just like flavored tobacco.  

“In Colorado, it is very difficult to buy any marijuana with a potency as low as what folks experienced in earlier decades.” O’Bryan said. “Almost 93% of products sold in Colorado are considered highly concentrated, with a bud potency four times higher than average THC content of the early 1990s, and marijuana concentrates approaching 90% THC.” 

Such highly potent products are “associated with higher rates of psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, psychosis, and generalized anxiety” according to a report from Colorado’s health department.

Eight years after Colorado voters approved recreational marijuana the state is experiencing:

  • rising frequency of marijuana use by youth, especially those using daily or near daily (20-39 times in the past 30 days).
  • almost double the national rate for daily marijuana use among young adults who were in middle and high school when legalization occurred.

More than 10% of all Colorado high school students say they dab ultra-potent THC concentrates and 7% vape marijuana. This is higher than the adult use rates. 

Dabbing has been compared to freebasing THC.

The U.S. Surgeon General says that no amount of marijuana use is safe for the developing brain of an adolescent. 

Colorado also reports almost twice as many teens driving after using marijuana than after drinking alcohol, according to Colorado teen surveys. 

“Kids only have one chance to grow up. We call on elected officials to take strong steps to protect the future of our nation’s kids before irreparable damage is done. ” Carlson said. 

Henny Lasley, executive director