Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

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Friday, April 18, 2014

How might (rare?) tragedies linked to legal marijuana use impact reform developments?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent AP story from Colorado  headlined "2 Denver deaths tied to recreational marijuana use."  Here are excerpts:

This week, two Denver deaths were linked to marijuana use, and while some details of the deaths have yet to emerge, they are the first ones on record to be associated with a once-illegal drug that Colorado voters legalized for recreational use last year.  One man jumped to his death after consuming a large amount of marijuana contained in a cookie, and in the other case, a man allegedly shot and killed his wife after eating marijuana candy.

Wyoming college student Levy Thamba Pongi, 19, jumped to his death at a Denver hotel on March 11 after eating more of a marijuana cookie than was recommended by a seller, police records show - a finding that comes amid increased concern about the strength of popular pot edibles after Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana.  Pongi consumed more than one cookie purchased by a friend - even though a store clerk told the friend to cut each cookie into six pieces and to eat just one piece at a time, said the reports obtained Thursday.

Pongi began shaking, screaming and throwing things around a hotel room before he jumped over a fourth-floor railing into the hotel lobby March 11.  An autopsy report listed marijuana intoxication as a "significant contributing factor" in the death....

In a separate case, a Denver man, Richard Kirk, 47, is accused of killing his wife, Kristine Kirk, 44, on Monday while she was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. Police say he ate marijuana-infused candy and possibly took prescription pain medication before the attack, according to a search warrant affidavit released Thursday. The affidavit states that Kristine Kirk told the dispatcher her husband had ingested marijuana candy and was hallucinating.

She pleaded with dispatchers to hurry and send officers because her husband had asked her to get a gun and shoot him. She said she was "scared of what he might do." Richard Kirk could be heard in the background of the 911 call talking about the candy he bought from a pot dispensary earlier that night, and surveillance footage from the shop captured the transaction, police said.

A detective who interviewed him after the killing noted that he appeared to be under the influence of controlled substances based on his speech and inability to focus, according to the warrants. Blood samples will be tested to see whether he was on any other drugs or medications....

The cannabis industry tries to educate consumers about the potency of marijuana-infused foods. But despite the warnings - including waiting for up to an hour to feel any effects - complaints by visitors and first-time users have been rampant.

Investigators believe Pongi, a native of the Republic of Congo, and three friends from Northwest College in Powell, Wyo., traveled to Colorado on spring break to try marijuana. At their hotel, the group of four friends followed the seller's instructions. But when Pongi felt nothing after about 30 minutes, he ate an entire cookie, police said. Within an hour, he began speaking erratically in French, shaking, screaming and throwing things around the hotel room. At one point he appeared to talk to a lamp....Pongi's friends tried to restrain him before he left the room and jumped to his death, police said.

One of his friends told investigators it may have been his first time using the drug - the only one toxicology tests found in his system. All three friends said they did not purchase or take any other drugs during their stay.

The marijuana concentration in Pongi's blood was 7.2 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. Colorado law says juries can assume someone is driving while impaired if their blood contains more than 5 nanograms per milliliter.

In the days that followed the death of Pongi, Denver police confiscated the remaining cookies from the pot shop to test their levels of THC. The wrapper of the cookies bought by the students said each contained 65 mg of THC for 6 1/2 servings. Tests showed the cookies were within the required THC limits, police said. "The thing to realize is the THC that is present in edibles is a drug like any drug, and there's a spectrum of ways in which people respond," said Michael Kosnett, a medical toxicologist on the clinical faculty at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2014/04/how-might-rare-tragedies-linked-to-legal-marijuana-use-impact-reform-developments.html

Criminal justice developments and reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink

Comments

If I had known all it took to get a blog on the law professor blogs network was to regurgitate the reporting of the Denver Post, I might have beaten you to it. Thanks for all the legal insights.

Posted by: GatewayDrug | Apr 18, 2014 2:01:45 PM

Sorry, GatewayDrug, it has been a long week and thus I only had time for a little late-week reporting. That said, do you have any thoughts about the question posed in the post title?

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 18, 2014 2:03:52 PM

testing

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 21, 2014 1:17:52 PM

testing

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 21, 2014 1:18:01 PM

I think anecdotes can have a powerful effect on public opinion, probably even more so than studies using large-n datasets. In cases of tragedies, like this one, the anecdotes will dampen support for legalization. But it's important to recognize that anecdotes have served both sides of the debate (for good or ill). After all, proponents have resorted to using anecdotal evidence to bolster support for legalization of medical marijuana. There are lots of news stories (I still call these "Bart's people", in a dated homage to the Simpsons) and campaign ads showcasing how marijuana alleviated a single person's suffering. Such stories / ads can bolster support for legalization, just as stories of tragedy can dampen it.
I’m not sure if there’s anything we can do about this. The standard response – take the issue out of the hands of ordinary voters who are too easy to manipulate, and put it into the hands of experts – sounds good, but would strike some as naïve (e.g., experts are flawed too) or too damaging to their cause.

Posted by: Rob Mikos | Apr 21, 2014 2:00:18 PM

I think anecdotes can have a powerful effect on public opinion, probably even more so than studies using large-n datasets. In cases of tragedies, like this one, the anecdotes will dampen support for legalization. But it's important to recognize that anecdotes have served both sides of the debate (for good or ill). After all, proponents have resorted to using anecdotal evidence to bolster support for legalization of medical marijuana. There are lots of news stories (I still call these "Bart's people", in a dated homage to the Simpsons) and campaign ads showcasing how marijuana alleviated a single person's suffering. Such stories / ads can bolster support for legalization, just as stories of tragedy can dampen it.
I’m not sure if there’s anything we can do about this. The standard response – take the issue out of the hands of ordinary voters who are too easy to manipulate, and put it into the hands of experts – sounds good, but would strike some as naïve (e.g., experts are flawed too) or too damaging to their cause.

Posted by: Rob Mikos | Apr 21, 2014 2:00:55 PM

how might the world be a better place, when crooks in office who break their oaths to protect everyone, then commit perjury, and war on the cannabis community, be brought up on charges for high treason
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_treason

http://www.theweedblog.com/dea-chief-faces-backlash-for-criticizing-obamas-marijuana-comments/

Posted by: ted mishler | Apr 23, 2014 9:43:01 AM

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