Facebook Twitter

Robert Bennett: And they call this a recreational drug?

SHARE Robert Bennett: And they call this a recreational drug?
Edible marijuana products on display at a medical marijuana dispensary in Denver.

Edible marijuana products on display at a medical marijuana dispensary in Denver.

Ed Andrieski, Associated Press

Because Maureen Dowd is an excellent writer, I occasionally read her column in "The New York Times," even though I disagree with her most of the time. Last week she did a column describing what happened to her when she went to Colorado to investigate and report on the impact of that state’s new law legalizing marijuana. She began by purchasing what is known as an “edible,” which is marijuana packaged with food. After taking “a bite or two” of what looked and tasted like a caramel-chocolate candy bar, here’s what happened to her:

“For an hour, I felt nothing ... then I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours. I was thirsty but couldn’t move to get water. Or even turn off the lights. I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy.

“I strained to remember where I was or even what I was wearing, touching my green corduroy jeans and staring at the exposed-brick wall. As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me. It took all night before it began to wear off, distressingly slowly.”

The next day, as she described the experience to a medical consultant at an edibles plant she visited, she was told that candy bars like the one she had eaten are supposed to be cut into 16 pieces so that first time users would take much smaller bites than she did. There had been no such information on the label of the bar she bought.

Some on the Internet found the whole thing hilarious, laughing at her ignorance of the proper way to use marijuana. I found it revolting. Marijuana is called a recreational drug, which suggests that taking it will be fun. Dowd’s experience shows that, in the hands of an unsuspecting person who looks on it as candy bar with a little bit of a kick in it, it can recreate your personality in a deadly way.

For example, in April, a Denver man who ate pot-infused candy began talking in such crazy terms that his wife called the local emergency number seeking help. While she was on the phone with the dispatcher, her husband shot and killed her.

I recognize that many of the existing laws involving marijuana don’t make sense. I’ve long supported repeal of mandatory sentencing guidelines that impose ridiculously long prison terms for mere possession, because it is not nearly as dangerous a drug as meth or heroin. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s harmless or should be made both legal and readily available in forms that appeal to children. (Dowd said the bar she ate “looked so innocent, like the Sky Bars I used to love as a child.”)

If it is to be decriminalized, there must be strong efforts to keep it out of the hands of minors, strict controls on where and to whom it is sold, mandatory warning labels outlining its dangers, including specific details about the effects of an overdose, and negative advertizing campaigns against its use. That’s how we currently deal with an even less dangerous drug, tobacco. If, by reporting the horrors of her unfortunate “trip,” Maureen Dowd can help stimulate the institution of such measures with respect to legalized marijuana, she will have done us all a favor.

Robert Bennett, former U.S. senator from Utah, is a part-time teacher, researcher and lecturer at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.