May 3rd 2018 - Social Affairs Committee with Various Witnesses
Senator Poirier: Thank you both for your presentation.
Dr. Finn, you didn’t paint a pretty picture. I can tell you that. A lot of what you’ve mentioned, I did start taking notes, but there were so many I didn’t catch them all. A lot of the increases that you’re seeing and talking about are also a lot of the items that we’re seeing that people are fearing with the legalization of marijuana, also of the increased cost to health care and the increased risk to your health, among many other things. I thank you for sharing those with us.
My question is going to be on the THC level potency. In Colorado, at the beginning, if I’m understanding right, there was no limit of regulating the THC. In 2016, some legislator proposed an amendment of the limit of THC to 16 per cent. In your opinion, should we be looking at the THC levels to prevent the high potency of the product?
Dr. Finn: If you’re going to limit it, limit it to 10 per cent. The products that are available in Colorado can push the 95 per cent, and we’re seeing, with my friends and colleagues in the emergency department, a significant increase in the number of people presenting to the emergency department with psychosis.
There was a friend and colleague of mine in the emergency department, as an example, who had a young 16-year-old with no psychiatric history who ended up using a high-potency product and ended up having to be restrained, tased, ended up stabbing a security guard in the face with a knife, ended up assaulting his family members where one of the family members ended up in the intensive care unit. A lot of these things have to do with the potency.
You have the Kristine Kirks of the world, who was shot in the head by her husband, who was on a high-potency product. You have Levy Thamba, who jumped off a balcony because he ingested high-potency products.
You have adolescents and youths using vaporizing pens at school, because it doesn’t smell, with very high-potency products. The vaping data shows that kids who are vaping the e-cigarettes are more likely to go to marijuana compared to the ones who are not vaping and are less likely to use marijuana.
The potency is a huge issue. An example, a colleague of mine this morning sent me a text about a person presenting in the emergency room with cannabis hyperemesis syndrome for the third time this week. The increase in utilization of the health care system is really starting to tax, especially in the community where she’s at that does not have a lot of resources and is less financially well-off, lower socio-economic status, et cetera.
The potency is a huge problem, and I would strongly limit it to 10 per cent.
Senator Poirier: Thank you both for the presentations. I have questions for you both.
I will put my first to Mr. Garza. You mentioned in your comments the advertising issues. You had given us a bit of information about the advertising restrictions that were added just recently. I’m assuming there must have been some kind of advertising rules that were put in place when this was introduced, but in 2017 you felt there was a need to change the law. Was it because the retailers were not complying with the advertising law that had been put in place at the beginning, or was it to the fact that their laws were not severe enough when it did start? You talked about the billboards. What do they look like at this point?
Mr. Garza: One of the things I would share that I didn’t have a chance to do earlier is the initiative created restrictions of 1,000 feet. The retail producer or processor licences can be fixed as far as a location. They can’t be within 1,000 feet of seven entities, like parks, schools, transit centres, libraries and anywhere children would typically be present. That’s a restriction that was placed in the initiative, and it also applies to advertising. No advertising can be within 1,000 feet. It’s really to address billboards or businesses or people who would advertise near a school, for example.
I think what happened, again, was that because 44 per cent of the voters of our state voted no, they didn’t expect the industry to use the same type of advertising techniques and tools that others used, and that surprised everyone.
Some of the restrictions in the billboard advertising was anything that might be appealing to a child, but also just to the point that the plant couldn’t be in the billboard advertising, or smoke or anything that suggested the consumption of it. People were pretty imaginative in some of the billboards that they created and, in fact, I’d be happy to send you copies of some of the things that were created that really were a backlash, that the public looked at and said, “Look, I’m okay with this being legal.” Even those who approved the measure were concerned about the level of advertising with sign spinners. I think that was a little more than the public wanted to swallow. There was even an effort to outlaw billboards period, but there are obviously free speech issues there. I’ll share with you anything you can do, and I can send you specifically the new law and the restrictions that were put in place.
Senator Poirier: If you could send it to the attention of the clerk of the committee, it would be great to have that information. Thank you.
My second question is for Dr. Butler. You mentioned right at the beginning of your opening statement that although marijuana remains illegal at the federal level in the United States, it is now legalized in nine states and nearly one in four Americans live in a state that allows the possession and retail sale of marijuana. I wanted to talk about that for a little bit.
We’ve heard from different people over the course of this study about some of the issues relating to crossing of the Canada-United States border by people that may have smoked, may have had a record, may have been charged before, are asked if they’ve smoked in their life and have had Nexus cards removed. There are so many issues we’ve heard along that line.
I’d like to hear from you about how Americans are dealing with this when they are going into a country and coming back through different borders. If it’s an issue and you’re hearing about it, how do they deal with it?
Dr. Butler: I can address it in terms of how we’ve worked with the so-called hospitality industry’s concern that people who come into the state may not realize that what they purchase in Alaska cannot be taken out of state — not legally, anyway. That has been part of the early messaging, that what’s grown in Alaska stays in Alaska.
In terms of how Americans in general perceive that, that’s a little bit beyond my area of expertise.
We have had a lot of questions raised regarding the federal screening. If a federal security agent recovers marijuana, do they need to do anything? I think that’s one of those law enforcement issues that are still being worked out.