#parents | #teensvaping | SAFE Banking Act shouldn’t harm children

The marijuana industry is lobbying hard for the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE) of 2019. Its stated purpose is “to increase public safety by ensuring access to financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses.”
The bill’s supporters say it will increase safety for marijuana businesses that now rely on cash because, while some states have legalized marijuana, it remains illegal under federal law.
No one would argue against supporting the safety of employees at marijuana businesses. What’s been lost in the congressional debate over the bill so far, however, is the safety of children.
We have seen the damage when an industry gets ahead of the regulators. Currently, there are over 2,050 cases of lung injury and 39 deaths in the vaping epidemic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that “most patients report using THC-containing products.” The vaping deaths include a 17-year-old boy, and CNN reported on an 18-year-old who doctors said now has lungs like “a 70-year-old’s.”
Passing such an expansive marijuana bill seems premature. Yet, should Congress take this major step towards legitimizing the marijuana industry, as this bill would do, now is the time to build in safeguards to limit marijuana’s known harms to children.
One of the major stories about legal, commercial marijuana is the dramatic increase in the potency of today’s marijuana products — and the implications that has for the health of today’s youth. THC is marijuana’s main psychoactive chemical, and it poses significant risks to youth whose brains are still developing.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has warned, “Recent increases in access to marijuana and in its potency, along with misperceptions of safety of marijuana endanger our most precious resource, our nation’s youth.”
In Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, commercial sales launched a THC arms race with exponentially rising potency levels.
THC potency nationally averaged around 2% in the 1980s and about 3.8% in the 1990s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Colorado reports that marijuana concentrates have increased to an average of 68.6% THC, and flower strains can now exceed 34% THC, according to High Times magazine.
The risk of vaping to teens is especially worrisome because the new marijuana products are easily concealed from parents and educators. One high-THC product in Colorado looks like an asthma relief inhaler, and others include powders dissolved in water bottles.
Colorado’s most recent survey of youth found an increase in children using marijuana edibles, vaping, and dabbing, a method of smoking ultra-potent THC resin. The survey shows that, while marijuana stores can’t sell to youth, teens are getting marijuana from an informal network of dealers, friends, and family.
Colorado’s youth health statistics are becoming increasingly worrisome, as well. Colorado youth suicide rates are now nearly double the national average, with THC being the number one substance found in toxicology reports of youth ages 10-19.
Because of the risks of ultra-potent marijuana, as documented by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who ate a marijuana edible and “lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours,” there’s a common recommendation by the marijuana industry to “start low, go slow.”
That sensible approach should also apply as Congress considers banking legislation.
The SAFE Banking Act will help marijuana industry investors make a lot more money. As any negotiator knows, it’s when one party wants something that it is most willing to compromise. In this case, Congress can demand key safeguards for children that the industry has so far resisted.
That should include an amendment that limits the SAFE Banking Act to products that fall below a specific THC potency level and that have complied with adequate testing, labeling, and consumer safety standards. As more research on THC’s impact on the brain becomes available, Congress could revisit the potency limit.
As we’ve learned with the vaping epidemic when the proliferation of radically new products gets ahead of the research and regulations, terrible health consequences result.
As Congress considers the SAFE Banking Act, let’s make sure children have a voice, too. After all, they only have one chance to grow up.
Diane Carlson is Co-Founder and National Policy Director of Smart Colorado, the only nonprofit organization focused on protecting the health, safety, and well-being of youth as marijuana becomes increasingly available and commercialized.

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