Officer warns of complacency toward pot | PostIndependent.com

Officer warns of complacency toward pot

Ryan Summerlin
rsummerlin@postindependent.com

The societal problems that marijuana brings should be weighed when community leaders consider bringing more stores to Glenwood Springs, says Justin Wareham, a veteran former officer with the Two Rivers Drug Enforcement Team.

He warned Glenwood Springs Rotarians on Friday of the dangers of cultural apathy toward marijuana.

The playing field of the marijuana industry, both legitimate and illicit, is rapidly changing, said Wareham.

“Colorado’s dispensaries outnumbers Starbucks, I heard,” he told the Rotarians.

TV shows like “Weeds,” “Breaking Bad” or the movie “Blow,” along with cultural trends, are normalizing drug use, he said.

Over the course of his years in TRIDENT Wareham interviewed hundreds of drug users, and their path to hard drugs was always the same, he said. Their gateway drug was always alcohol or marijuana.

Law enforcement long predicted the legalization of marijuana would lead to property crimes and robbery, and the recent robbery of Sweet Leaf Pioneer marijuana shop in Carbondale is a prime example, the former TRIDENT officer said.

The number of drug cases is also taxing the local judicial system, with only a handful of prosecutors to handle all the cases, said Wareham.

You can see the shift in Colorado’s stance toward pot in its key pieces of legislation: Colorado’s amendment 20, a law passed in 2000 that legalized medical marijuana, and Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana as well.

Amendment 20, Wareham said, was originally written and intended for marijuana use only by “terminally ill” patients, but it was warped over time.

A man in the crowd objected, having done a quick Google search from his smart phone for Amendment 20 and finding no references to terminal illness in the document.

Colorado Amendment 20 does state that it intends “Medical use of marijuana for persons suffering form debilitating medical conditions,” under which it includes cancer, HIV, AIDS and some chronic, debilitating diseases or medical conditions – not necessarily terminal diseases.

The amendment gives physicians much latitude in deciding when to recommend medical marijuana.

Even now that recreational marijuana is legal, people are still drawn to medical marijuana because it’s not taxed as much and the law allows medical users a higher plant count, said Wareham.

Wareham recalled a pair of men who teamed up to get doctors’ orders for a combined 192 plants, which was legal.

Letting people go with hundreds of marijuana plants is hard to do because officers really like charging people and putting them in jail, said Wareham.

And after many years of cultivation by grow operations, today’s marijuana is far more potent that what was smoked in the ‘60s. The amount of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that produces the intoxicating effect, in ‘60s weed was about 3 to 6 percent, said Wareham.

Compare that with the approximately 30 percent THC of today’s marijuana, he said.

The drug problem isn’t something that can be stopped outright, Wareham said. The solution, rather, lies in education.

Garfield County needs to focus heavily on marijuana education for young people, approaching it with the same intensity as teaching kids to stay away from tobacco. In particular, people should be careful of the “marijuana-infused products,” such as brownies and other edibles.

Community leaders need to consider these issues when deciding whether they want another store in town, said Wareham.

Parents especially need to be educated because too many of them think it’s not a big deal – even when police are giving their kid a ticket for it, said the officer.

Marijuana can have a dramatic effect on IQ in kids younger than 18. “When we start testing IQs years down the road what will we see? Then we’ll have the proof we need.”

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected from the original to reflect that Wareham is a former member of TRIDENT, of which he was part from 2008 to 2014.


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