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Colorado’s Chief Medical Officer Says Marijuana Isn’t Harming Public Health


According to Dr. Larry Wolk, Colorado’s chief medical officer, the state is doing just fine since recreational marijuana was legalized. Wolk mentioned during a Canadian radio interview that the state’s public health profile has basically remained about the same since legalization in 2014.

Most of the ER visits regarding marijuana consumption were from out-of-state tourists, according to Westword. Calls to the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center did see an increase regarding marijuana in 2014, but those calls leveled off within a year and have decreased since. Wolk noted that no significant increases in teen use, ER visits or impaired driving have occurred since legalization.

Dr. Wolk said, “We haven’t seen any dramatic changes from a public-health standpoint. The components of that answer are that we haven’t seen an increase in youth use or adult use, we haven’t seen an increase in DUIs. We had a little blip as far as calls to emergency control and hospital-room visits, but much of that has leveled off and is explainable by other reasons.”

Wolk does support increasing research efforts. He said, “You have to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples, and that there’s valid baseline data to compare with. People can pick and choose what they want as data elements and use it to support a pro or con position. It’s our job as a regulatory agency to present data objectively.”

The research-licensing program beginning in Colorado will be the first of this kind in the U.S. and Dr. Wolk hopes that the research provides more insight regarding the effect of legalization on public health.

One concern that Wolk does have is public and social use. He’d like to know how this could affect teen usage rates.

Wolk said, “Passive smoke can subject people potentially to harmful health effects. The concern with socialization is that it could be taking another step towards normalization, and that could trend towards higher youth numbers – but these are just questions and concerns. We don’t know if there’s a connection.”

The priority for Colorado is to maintain its regulatory standards. Wolk did have personal bias from years working as a pediatrician, but, as he said, egos and traditions have to be checked at the door. He said, “Personally, I was trained traditionally as a pediatrician, and part of that training is that marijuana is bad, illegal, and we counsel patients against using marijuana. In a regulatory role in a state that’s legalized it, you have to park that as bias and be much more objective.”