"There's a difference between a marijuana cookie and a Duncan Hines cookie," Rep. Jonathan Singer [D-Longmont] says. "We want to make sure that kids and parents can easily recognize what's a marijuana cookie and what's a Duncan Hines cookie, so that they can safely ingest what is meant for adults and what is meant for kids."
And he wants regulators to determine how concentrated pot, baked into food, equates to the leafy variety.
“We have this on alcohol right now," Singer said. "You know what 3.2 [beer] is versus Jagermeister. And so the idea here is really to make sure people that know what they’re ingesting, and know the levels they’re ingesting.”
Both of the policies have bipartisan support, although Singer says he expects to face opposition from some in industry who believe the rules would unfairly burden their businesses.
Singer says his he started work on the legislation before the death of 19-year-old Wyoming college student Levy Thamba last month. The Denver coroner ruled that marijuana in a cookie Thamba ate played a role in his fatal jump from a hotel balcony.
Marijuana aficionado Ry Prichard describes marijuana edibles as the most powerful form of the drug, “easily.”
As an accomplished marijuana photographer and daily user, Prichard knows more than most about pot but even he steers clear of edibles, especially after overdoing it once.
“I had these waves of anxiety rolling through my body,” Prichard says. “But I didn’t feel like moving, like I was a little bit nauseous too, and so I just kind of wanted to sit there. So it was just an unpleasant experience. It lasted all too long.”
Once the dose of marijuana is in your gut, there’s no getting it back out and you just have to live with the high, good or bad.
Prichard says it’s so easy for many to misjudge pot edibles because the potent, baked treats often look and taste so good. The trouble, however, is that edibles offer a delayed high and usually take longer to kick in, oftentimes prompting people to ingest more.
And with edibles an increasingly popular way for people to consume their marijuana, lawmakers, members of the public, and even some in the industry are voicing their concerns.
'You've got to start slow'
At the small industrial pot kitchen at Denver-based Incredibles you’ll find the smells of mint, chocolate and marijuana wafting through the air.
Incredibles founding partner Bob Eschino says his company has seen exponential growth in the last few years.
Eschino says he doesn’t worry as much about medical patients, because they are familiar and experienced with high-dose edibles. It’s the many recreational users who are new to the world of edibles who worry him, so much so that his company has started manufacturing a very low-dose chocolate bar, marketed to new consumers.
“You’ve got to start slow, you’ve got to treat it responsibly,” Prichard says. “You’re not going to go out, if you haven’t drank in 10 years, and grab a bottle of Jager and finish the whole thing are, ya?”
Parents of teenagers say it’s not that simple.
“You think that they really care about that?” Smart Colorado’s Gina Carbone says. “These are kids whose brains are still developing and unfortunately it’s going to hurt them the very most.”
Smart Colorado is group that advocates for restrictions on the marijuana industry
Carbone says the edibles market is dangerous and state regulators should be deeply concerned about high-potency marijuana treats that resemble familiar candies, like peanut butter cups.
“The places selling these products and the companies making these products need to be held accountable,” Carbone says.
Ensuring a good experience
Denver toxicologist Dr Michael Kosnett says child-proof packaging standards set by the state should help keep kids away from infused products, but he warns that even for adults, edible marijuana can be a risky experience. He describes food as a wildly inconsistent drug delivery method, where potency can change depending on numerous variables, like body chemistry, the quality of the product and recent meals.
“The potential for misadventures and adverse consequences increases,” Kosnett says.
At Lodo Wellness, a retail marijuana store in downtown Denver, manager Hailey Andrews says her budtenders are careful to explain the nuances of edibles and urge customers to follow dosing instructions on the packaging.
“We want everybody to have a good time,” Andrews says. “We don’t want anybody to leave here and have a strange-feeling experience.”
Ben Markus is a business reporter for Colorado Public Radio. He has created dozens of databases to track the important drivers that define the Colorado economy and covers the topics and trends that make up Colorado's economy.