Colorado is failing to Protect its Teens


In 2012, Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use. Since then, our state has been a leader when it comes to responsible regulation, as evidenced by the astounding 95%-97% compliance rate when it comes to preventing underage marijuana consumption.

We basically wrote the book on how to have a safe, legal cannabis industry. So, why are we failing to exhibit the same leadership when it comes to hemp intoxicants?

Over the years, hemp has been presented to the public as a harmless plant used in lotions and textiles. In fact, its highly renewable nature makes it an incredible and inexpensive solution in a wide range of industries. However, like most things, it can have a dark side if misused.

For those who haven’t been following this situation closely, hemp was made legal at the federal level by the 2018 Farm Bill. Unfortunately, the bill also left an open door for retailers to sell hemp-derived intoxicants with little to no oversight or regulatory standards. Meaning that there are virtually no protections for consumer safety or anything preventing it from being sold to underage buyers.

The result? Hemp-derived products soared in popularity. Without any restrictions on who can buy them or how they’re distributed, bad actors began infusing these products with delta-8 THC. This psychoactive cannabinoid can be extracted from hemp, which contains very low concentrations of THC.

Although harmless in its natural state, when concentrated into delta-8 and other cannabinoids, hemp derived THC can be infused into gummies, vapes, and other products that appeal to teens. On the surface, these items mimic the products sold in marijuana dispensaries. However, they are manufactured and distributed with no oversight. So, any child with access to a cell phone can buy them.

The only barrier is that they must first click on a box that says “I’m over 18.” No ID check, no signature, just an inconspicuous package delivered right to your door. Worse still, is that the production of these products also lacks regulation, allowing for the use of harmful chemicals in the production process. This is among a variety of factors that likely led to more than 100 reports of adverse health events related to hemp intoxicants in just 14 months, according to the FDA.

Although the FDA has issued multiple public warnings that these products are not evaluated for safe consumption, it has done little to deter those profiting from their sale. Over 20 states have already stepped up to protect families from intoxicating hemp. Despite all this, Colorado remains the Wild West when it comes to hemp-derived THC products.

Thankfully, this year Colorado lawmakers took a first step. This year they passed Senate Bill 205, which authorizes Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division to convene a task force, whose goal is to evaluate the loopholes and make public safety policy recommendations for next year’s legislative period. The SB 205 task force, which is comprised of hemp and marijuana industry leaders, state representatives, patients, and other experts began meeting in July. Although this seems like a pivotal step towards protecting our communities, some of the hemp companies involved in the discussion appeared to care more about protecting the current loopholes than public safety.

As a father to a 15-year-old, I hope the Marijuana Enforcement Division will see through these self-serving objections. The conversation should focus on the risks that these products pose to our youth and how to prevent them. I don’t understand how those officials, to whom we’ve entrusted the responsibility of protecting our families, can justify wasting any time at all on the concerns of those groups who worry about lost profits from the sale of toxic products to our children.

This isn’t rocket science. If the product is intoxicating, it should be sold in a dispensary, period. We also need purchase limits to define what constitutes “intoxicating.” If hemp derived gummies are going to be sold outside of dispensaries, we need a strict limit of 0.2 milligrams per serving and a cap on the total number of servings per container — so that kids can’t just eat more gummies to get high.

Any parent could go on and on about the challenges our kids contend with in today’s world. It’s time to behave like adults. Those who profit from these industries and those responsible for safety, should be the first to stand up. To take on the task of mitigating the threats our children face, not look for ways of perpetuating them! Let’s close the loopholes, establish common sense standards, and protect the most vulnerable members of our communities — those who we call “our future.”

Vadim Epelbaum lives in Brighton and is the father to a 15-year-old daughter. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom II and president of the Board of Directors for the Education Foundation for the Colorado National Guard.

Region: Colorado