Lessons from Telluride
More than five months after retail sales of marijuana were legalized, political and legal issues remain
JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald file photo Adam Raleigh, owner of Telluride Bud Co., looks over mari
Fifteen weeks before Colorado allowed commercial marijuana sales, Telluride adopted a 21-page ordinance regulating the industry at a local level.
After passage of Amendment 64 in November 2012, Telluride town attorney Kevin Geiger said residents there immediately started discussing marijuana reforms. The town council held multiple community workshops, and those robust conversations combined with the community’s overall acceptance of medical marijuana facilities helped make it possible to adopt a retail marijuana ordinance on Sept. 17, 2013, rather easily, Geiger said.
More than five months after retail sales were legalized across the state on Jan. 1, Cortez struggles continues to struggle with the issue. A 10-month moratorium on retail sales, set to expire June 30, could be extended through the end of 2014 after a June 10 public hearing.
“Every jurisdiction has to make their own decisions if they are comfortable with retail marijuana,” Geiger replied when questioned if Cortez was slow to act.
Mike Green, legal counsel for the city of Cortez, has repeatedly said the state had yet to formalize all marijuana regulations, which led to the initial moratorium. Geiger said he didn’t want to place too much blame on the state, but he confirmed that political and legal issues remained.
“It is a constantly evolving field,” Geiger said. “Nearly every day over the last three or four months, I’ve received some type of question about retail marijuana.”
One of the more considerable concerns for Geiger involves licensing requirements for edible marijuana products. Although a state law was passed this year on the issue, Geiger said the rules wouldn’t go into effect until 2016.
And although legal and political unknowns remain regarding commercial marijuana sales, Geiger said there weren’t enough concerns that hampered Telluride from adopting a retail regulatory scheme. The measure passed in Telluride 5-2.
Another fear of some Cortez leaders over commercial marijuana sales is access to underage children. State law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing marijuana at a retail outlet.
Telluride Town Marshal Jim Kolar said teenagers would always experiment with marijuana, but he has neither noticed a widespread increase in use among teens nor a spike in any criminal activity. His greatest concern, instead, was the rise in the number of medical calls received for people who overconsume edible marijuana products.
“The number of medical calls to the (emergency room) has increased,” said Kolar. “We’ve had about a dozen calls since January, mainly from people who are suffering from panic attacks and high anxiety.”
Kolar added that the state has struggled over potency levels in edible products, a point Geiger also mentioned. On May 1, the state issued a new rule to better monitor the potency of edible marijuana products.
Dan Hehir, chief of medical staff at the Telluride Medical Center, echoed Kolar’s concerns, adding that it was important from a public health perspective to examine why edible products contain higher doses of THC and to educate the public on the pitfalls associated with using marijuana.
“I have served in emergency departments for over 15 years,” Hehir recently wrote in an op-ed. “During those first 10 years, I don’t recall treating a single case of an adverse reaction to marijuana. This changed as medicinal marijuana use became more prevalent. Now, after the legalization of recreational marijuana, I’m noticing a dramatic increase in emergency visits related to the drug.”
Hehir warned that the effects of ingesting marijuana, as opposed to smoking it, require more time to manifest, and people may keep ingesting the products only to realize too late that they took too much. Colorado law limits the THC content in an edible to 100 mg.
“Eating just one 100 mg edible would be like smoking 20 hits of marijuana,” said Hehir. “This may be possible for a heavy user, but for many it’s enough to create problems.”
According to Hehir, the majority of patients reporting marijuana related emergencies in Telluride have the same symptoms: severe nausea and vomiting, anxiety, elevated heart, respiratory and blood pressure rates.
“No one uses marijuana with the intention of winding up in the emergency department,” Hehir said. “With a bit of foresight and education, I hope negative reactions and trips to the emergency room can be avoided.”
Attempts to obtain tax data from retail marijuana sales in Telluride were unsuccessful as of press time. Across the state, retail marijuana sales tax generated $7.3 million during the first quarter of the year.