By Robert Kittle
A three-day conference in Columbia called “The Blunt Truth SC” aims to educate South Carolinians about marijuana, as more states are legalizing it. It’s looking at medical marijuana, recreational use, decriminalization, impact on youth, businesses, and law enforcement.
Ben Cort, a recovering marijuana addict who now works at the University of Colorado Hospital, told participants Thursday what Colorado is like now that marijuana has been legalized.
“One of the great misconceptions is that this is about some sort of decriminalization,” he says. “This is about the commercialization of THC in all forms, from gummy bears to sodas to sugar candies to concentrated marijuana that you smoke on a super-heated needle in the same way that you smoke crack and meth. This is about commercialized THC, and what we see in Colorado now is a dispensary on every corner in Denver. If you add the McDonald’s and the Starbucks together in Denver proper, there’s 80 more dispensaries than there are of those.”
He showed the crowd slides of advertisements that are now common in Colorado, enticing people with coupons and discounts for marijuana. He showed two ads that had pictures of Santa.
“How ’bout Santa Claus slingin’ dope? How ’bout Santa with a bag full of weed offering 10 percent off your purchase of $50 or more when you bring in friends or family,” he told the conference crowd. “Why? Because there is only one way that this industry will survive the massive explosion that it’s undergone, the dispensaries and the dispensaries and the dispensaries. There’s only one: sell more weed. And you do that one of two ways–Econ 101, simple stuff here– you convert current users to more frequent users and you capture new users.”
Those in favor of decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana say it’s harmless and not addictive. He says both statements are false, since he’s a recovering addict himself. “Started young. Hit fast. A lot of addiction inside of my family and some of us have less room to experiment than other people. And it got out of control really quick. Stopped being fun. Started being a little scary and then started being like a necessity,” he says. He got out of it 18 years ago.
He says about 16 percent of people who start smoking pot before the age of 18 will become addicted. If they start that early and use marijuana every day, that goes up to 24-25 percent. For people who start using as adults, the addiction rate is about 11 percent, which is much lower than other drugs but still isn’t zero. And he says those numbers are based on marijuana with a THC potency of 8 to 12 percent. Today’s pot is much stronger, with marijuana in Colorado having a potency of 25 to 30 percent. He says no one knows yet what the addiction rate will be for the higher potency pot.
And he says what’s also unknown is what such high-potency marijuana is doing to people’s brains, but he says they are seeing more cases of marijuana-induced psychosis in Colorado.