BOSTON (SHNS) – Marijuana has become the “next tobacco industry,” with commercial interests marketing gummy bears and cupcakes and emergency rooms experiencing an increase in marijuana-related visits in his state, a Colorado health activist said during a visit to Boston Monday.
Colorado voters backed medical marijuana in 2000, and by 2012, the same year they legalized recreational marijuana, there were 532 medical marijuana dispensaries in the Rocky Mountain state, according to Bob Doyle, chair of the Colorado Smart Approaches to Marijuana Coalition. “The commercialization exploded,” he said.
“This is what commercialization brings: it brings legitimacy, more sophisticated operations,” Doyle added. “We now have access and influence to the political system. We have marijuana lobbyists all over the state, we have former elected officials going to work for the marijuana lobby, we have more promotion, we’re mass producing products, more potent products. We have branding, better drug delivery devices, we have high use among adults and youth and we have a greater burden going on to our families, employer systems.”
Doyle spoke to a small group at the UMass Club, a gathering put together by Smart Approaches to Marijuana’s Massachusetts branch.
A potential 2016 ballot question in Massachusetts could propose legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
Bill Downing, treasurer of Bay State Repeal, as the effort is known, said the proposed language will not be submitted to the attorney general’s office until next year. The group will also be pursuing Beacon Hill legislation in the 2015-2016 legislative session to allow recreational use of marijuana, he added.
In November, voters in a number of legislative districts will be able to cast a ballot with a non-binding question asking whether marijuana prohibition should be repealed.
Downing dismissed Doyle’s arguments, saying states that have medical marijuana in place have seen drops in opioid overdose rates. The government is also now collecting taxes on marijuana in Colorado, Downing added.
“The one thing they are not able to measure, that is a huge benefit to the people of Colorado, is freedom,” Downing said. “How do you put a cost on and freedom on being free from unreasonable government? For me, that’s worth millions and millions of dollars.”
Doyle said he supports “cannabis-based medicine” and “good science” that can be helpful and beneficial to patients, such as children who suffer from epilepsy.
But Doyle warned that commercialization of marijuana will follow in Massachusetts in the wake of Bay State voters endorsing in 2012 a medical marijuana ballot initiative.
The Patrick administration has hit speed bumps in implementing medical marijuana, which has drawn the outrage of supporters who say suffering patients are forced to seek it out on the black market while waiting for the first dispensary to open in Massachusetts.
Comparing the marijuana industry with cigarettes, Doyle said the cigarette industry manipulated their product to ensure it was addictive and appealing to children.
Legalization will lead to cigarette companies moving into the marijuana market, he said. “So as I tell people, are we really going to be safer when Philip Morris gets marijuana? Really? Are children going to be safer when Philip Morris can sell marijuana?”
Doyle added: “We have a marijuana industry that is selling gummy bears, cupcakes and soda, that they’re saying isn’t targeting children. And I think no sane or logical adult believes that for a second, yet here we go again. And here is the same thing: The strategy of this is about freedom and rights when it’s truly about addiction and getting more people to use the drug.”
Asked about “edibles,” such as cookies and cupcakes with marijuana, Downing, the marijuana advocate, said, “It’s a big part of medical products.”
Regulators can develop rules to easily identify the wares, Downing said, “just as we have packaging rules for other things.”
Doyle said in Colorado, marijuana-related driving fatalities have increased over the last three years, and marijuana-related emergency room visits leapt to 12,888 in 2013 from 8,198 in 2011.
Doyle also pointed to a Suffolk University/USA Today poll from September 2014 showing waning support for marijuana, with 50.2 percent of voters disagreeing with the 2012 decision to legalize recreational marijuana, and 46 percent supporting the decision.
The poll also showed 49 percent of voters disapproving of the state’s handling of legalized marijuana.