The elephant in the room for ruling Democrats at Colorado’s Capitol, ironically enough, isn’t the GOP minority across the aisle. It’s marijuana.
Big Marijuana, once a pariah throughout society, now enjoys near-blanket immunity in the Democratic caucus of each legislative chamber. The industry’s campaign cash plays an increasingly significant role in elections, especially for Democratic candidates. And the tax revenue recreational pot sales generate for state and local coffers looms ever larger. Atop those dollars-and-cents realities, there’s also a sort of rebellious affection among Democratic pols for pot’s purveyors and users. Not so long ago, the stigma of illegality had kept them out of polite political circles. Nowadays, they are regulars on the Capitol’s social circuit, where they enjoy a roguishly hip cachet, oddly enough, as supposed crusaders for civil liberties.
Yet, all this chumminess with the marijuana industry is awkward. That’s because its cash crop poses a catastrophe for Colorado’s kids. More so, in fact, than ever before.
It’s obvious to ordinary Coloradans outside politics, especially parents, who haven’t been wooed by the pot industry’s money and newfound prestige. They intuitively know what a growing body of data also shows about pot’s disastrous implications for America’s youth — for their intellectual development, their overall mental health, and yes, for their suicide rate.
Too many of Colorado’s elected Democrats avert their gaze from that grim reality. Some turn a blind eye to it altogether. The fact marijuana is technically off limits to kids seems consolation enough for a lot of them. They’d rather expound on health care or guns or K-12 spending.
This is the same party that railed against Big Tobacco a generation ago. It was Democrats who led they way as Republicans grudgingly followed. Democrats pounded the podium and passed laws hounding tobacco’s use and users from every indoor space and even some outdoor spaces. They cracked down on tobacco’s sales and promotion in every way imaginable to keep it out of kids’ hands. At their bidding, voters raised taxes on tobacco products.
Where are their successors among today’s elected Democrats? Why aren’t they waging war against the availability and potency of a product that in some key respects represents even greater, and more urgent, perils for young people? For the most part, we hear only crickets.
There are notable exceptions. Democratic House Speaker Alec Garnett, of Denver, is among them. For several years, starting before his rise to leadership, Garnett has proven willing to stand up to the industry and his own caucus and speak out against pot’s impact on our youth.
Another more recent and singularly impressive Democratic dissident is state Rep. Yadira Caraveo. She is the practicing pediatrician from Thornton who will introduce critically important, urgently needed legislation to rein in runaway potency levels for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot.
The industry is not pleased. More significantly, Caraveo’s own caucus peers have mostly made themselves scarce. You would think they instead would be closing ranks around so righteous a cause — protecting children — advanced by so authoritative a sponsor as a licensed physician who earned her M.D. at CU’s med school.
Her pending bill’s 15% potency limit on THC — even pot-permissive Vermont has a limit — ought to be a no-brainer for all 100 members of our General Assembly. The same goes for the measure’s other sensible provisions, including a ban on vending machines in medical-marijuana dispensaries.
As Caraveo made clear in a recent commentary in The Gazette, Colorado’s contemporary cannabis culture bears little resemblance to pot use a mere decade ago. In the wake of legalization, today’s high-potency products, she notes, “have been repeatedly shown to cause or exacerbate psychosis, dependency, and depression in young people.”
“Substantial research has shown how these products can exacerbate mental health issues among our youth. A new study in JAMA Pediatrics, published less than a month ago, demonstrates that cannabis use disorder is a common comorbidity for youth with mood disorders. A 2016 paper by researchers at King’s College, London, which reviewed over a dozen studies conducted across the globe, found that people using high-potency THC products daily were five times more likely than non-users to suffer from a psychotic disorder. …as the use of concentrates rises, so will the mental health issues that Colorado’s youth experience.”
Will her fellow caucus members have an overdue crisis of conscience — and if nothing else heed their own House speaker? Garnett recently told our news affiliate Colorado Politics:
“It’s important that the industry not just say this isn’t a problem, or that these products aren’t getting into the hands of our kiddos from the regulated market. …Everyone needs to wake up and say this is a problem and we have to solve it.”
Colorado Democrats have come to a fork in the road on pot. Garnett makes clear which way to turn.