It’s been nearly 11 years since Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Is that a good thing? That depends on whom you ask. CBN News traveled to the Centennial State to talk with people on both sides of this controversial issue.
A Deep Struggle
“Johnny was a wonderful young man; he was very smart, had a perfect SAT score in math – 800 out of 800; had a 4.0 GPA all through school. He loved Jesus; we are a Christian family.”
Behind the accolades, however, a deep struggle came to light.
“Unfortunately, we live in Colorado where marijuana was legalized here in 2012 when Johnny was 12-years-old. And in 2014, it came out into the dispensaries, and he was 14-years-old and in ninth grade,” shared Laura Stack with CBN News.
She said that’s when her son, Johnny, went to his first high school party and took a hit of marijuana for the first time.
“And I said, ‘Johnny, I’m really kind of surprised at that. Thank you for telling me, but don’t ever do that again.’ I said, ‘Marijuana will ruin that beautiful brain of yours,'” she recalled.
Stack said she didn’t dwell on his decision.
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“In my head I said, ‘You know, it’s just weed. I used it when I was a girl. I’m fine; it’s no big deal.’ And I was so wrong,” she explained. “That was the beginning of five years of addiction with our son, and sadly, he took his own life when he was 19-years-old – five years later, after he became psychotic, very delusional and paranoid and suspicious from using the marijuana.”
Three days before he died, Stack says her son issued a warning.
“He said, ‘Mom, I just want you to know you were right.’ And I said, ‘About what?’ And he said, ‘About the marijuana.’ He said, ‘You told me that it would hurt my brain, and it’s ruined my mind and my life, and I’m sorry, and I love you.’ And three days later he was gone,” she shared, becoming emotional.
Now Stack and her husband, John, travel around the country, sharing Johnny’s story and his warning about marijuana. They started the non-profit, “Johnny’s Ambassadors“, with the goal of preventing young people from using the substance, by enlisting “ambassadors” to get the word out in their communities.
“We try to talk to parents and teens about what happened to our son and the dangers of these new products that are on the market – that they’re not the same; it’s not just weed. They’re very high potency,” she said.
‘Not Your Woodstock Weed’
“This is not your Woodstock weed; we’re seeing products up to 99.9 percent pure THC,” said Kevin Sabet, Ph.D., president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “And if you smoked marijuana 20, 30 years ago, you wouldn’t even recognize these products.”
THC is the major psychoactive component in cannabis; it’s the main trigger behind marijuana’s effects on a person’s mental state. Sabet is the former drug policy advisor to three presidential administrations.
“We’re seeing huge rates of mental illness in places that have legalized marijuana and have normalized it and overall in this country,” he told CBN News. “We are seeing very large increases in emergency room admissions, accidental poisonings, people getting these edibles because today’s marijuana is not your old joint.”
“It’s coming in gummy bears, cookies, candies, lollipops,” Sabet continued.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds three in 10 marijuana users are unable to stop using even though it causes them health and social problems.
CBN News spoke to the executive director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Keith Weis, about the state’s accidental marijuana poisonings. He said there was a 56 percent increase last year in the number of unintentional poisonings from marijuana for all ages.
“And it could be attributed I believe to the higher THC products that we’re seeing more and more evolve out there,” Weis said.
Cannabis Industry Defends Its Actions
Still, the head of the National Cannabis Industry Association, Aaron Smith, defends the safety of the industry.
“To put it plainly, we want our industry to be treated fairly like any other legal industry in the country,” Smith told CBN News. “Cannabis is by far safer than alcohol, by every measure. Voters have come to realize that and support laws that have put in place industries with each state by state.”
While Smith describes business in Colorado as “strong”, he also acknowledges a downturn in sales.
“We had sort of a probably artificial bump in sales during COVID when people were out of work, staying home,” he said. “And then I think probably more impactful than that is just inflationary pressure that’s affecting everyone.”
According to the Denver Gazette, Colorado cannabis sales have been decreasing dramatically for months after the state experienced a pandemic high. In 2022, Colorado brought in $325 million in cannabis tax revenue, and that’s a drop of $100 million from the year before.
Another trade association, the Marijuana Industry Group recently reported that Colorado recreational and medical marijuana sales figures “showed a continued, steep sales decline”.
“Illegal cannabis is not taxed; it’s not tested for potency and that sort of thing, so it’s typically cheaper, and I think in these days, more consumers are going into the criminal market,” Smith said.
To Laura Stack, even the legal marijuana market is dangerous. She learned after her son’s suicide that he went behind his parents’ backs and got a medical marijuana card.
“People always try to tell me, ‘Oh, you know, he got bad weed,’ or ‘It was black market weed,’ and it’s like, ‘Nope, he bought it in a legal dispensary,'” she explained. “These are legal products; he had a legal card, and unfortunately, in him it caused mental illness and suicidal thinking that eventually caused him to take his life.”
She does find consolation in her mission of warning others, especially when students come up to her following school assemblies to tell her they’re using, and they’re going to try to stop.
“That’s obviously the best gift that I can get,” a tearful Stack shared. “And I hug them and ask them if I can pray for them and give them my contact information, and I just think that it is changing lives.”
Her army of “Johnny’s Ambassadors” now has grown to over 10,000 across the country.
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