An estimated 55 people packed a basement room at Aspen City Hall on Thursday to learn more about marijuana and the different ways in which it is sold and consumed.
The impetus behind the panel discussion on cannabis, coordinated by the Valley Marijuana Council, is the upcoming opening of a recreational marijuana shop in Aspen. Jordan Lewis, owner of medical marijuana operation Silverpeak Apothecary, on East Cooper Avenue, said he has the green light from state and local authorities and is aiming to kick off his recreational adjunct business by the end of this month.
Since Jan. 1, an estimated 60 recreational shops have opened across the state. The industry was made possible by a successful November 2012 statewide referendum, Amendment 64, that allows marijuana to be regulated in the same manner as alcohol.
Serving on Thursday’s panel were Lewis, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, Aspen Valley Hospital emergency room doctor Catherine Bernard and Valley Partnership for Drug Prevention Executive Director Mike Connolly. DiSalvo, who worked to bring together several local entities early this year to form the fledgling council, said the meeting was the first in a series designed to educate the community about the legalization of marijuana and to clear up misconceptions.
One such mistaken view, Bernard said, is that pot is as dangerous as alcohol from a health perspective. She said people have been treated at hospital emergency rooms for overconsumption of marijuana or related products, not because of any real health issue, but rather they are uncomfortable and anxious through panic attacks.
She said she did not like comparisons of cannabis to alcohol.
“From a pure toxicological standpoint, marijuana does not even compare to alcohol in dangers,” Bernard said. “Alcohol, if you drink too much of it, will kill you in the short term or in the long term. ... Nobody is going to pass out on the floor and vomit and aspirate and die — that’s just not going to happen with marijuana.”
Lewis took the audience though a primer of products and terms associated with marijuana and the new industry. As DiSalvo noted earlier, marijuana consumption has changed drastically over the years. It’s not just about smoking.
Using packages of pot and edibles, along with other props, Lewis explained several terms. He started with “flowers,” the actual bud of a marijuana plant that is smoked in order to obtain an extremely mild hallucinogenic effect, or “high.” He went on to talk about “sativas and indicas,” the two basic classifications for marijuana, with the former producing a stimulating effect and the latter used for more relaxing purposes.
He mentioned “vaporizers,” heat-generating devices that allow a pot user to consume a vapor in lieu of burning marijuana to inhale smoke, which can sometimes cause harmful health effects.
Lewis also spoke of edible cannabis products, holding up packages containing marijuana-infused candies and cookies, all of which display information on dosage so that people won’t eat too much, which could result in a bad experience.
Connolly said one of his concerns is that kids will get the idea that if marijuana is legal, it must be harmless. The council will host another meeting on Thursday at Aspen High School to address marijuana’s effect on youths.