A Tuesday meeting between the Pitkin County Board of Health and county health officials highlighted the issues and concerns they have associated with the legalization of recreational marijuana.
It also highlighted how little some board members and health officials understand the amount of work and education already done at the Valley Marijuana Council meetings spearheaded by Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo.
The Valley Marijuana Council was organized in January to create a cohesive community approach to facilitate the safe, responsible and successful inception of recreational marijuana into the Aspen and Pitkin County community. Since its formation, the council has held a half-dozen public meetings.
At Tuesday’s Pitkin County commissioners work session, the commissioners convened with the Pitkin County Board of Health and had a discussion with Liz Stark, the Pitkin County public health director; Kurt Dahl, Pitkin County environmental health manager; Tom Dunlop, environmental public health advocate; Jordan Sabella, public health planner; C.J. Oliver, city of Aspen environmental and sustainability manager and Dr. Kimberly Levin, Pitkin County medical officer.
Stark presents quarterly updates, issues and concerns to the Board of Health to review and offer input on. She presented the commissioners with three broad questions to consider as the health officials gave their presentations: What are your biggest public-health concerns around the legalization of marijuana, what are your biggest environmental-health concerns around the legalization of marijuana, and what prevention efforts do you think would be most important to focus on?
Each health official then spoke about specific issues they’ve dealt with. Levin talked about the medical side of marijuana use and the problems she’s seeing with accidental overdoses on edible marijuana products.
Sabella talked about what’s being done at the state level to learn more about the health impacts of marijuana use and some of the information available through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Dahl and Oliver focused on the regulation of edible marijuana products, and both said they favored creating local regulations pertaining to the food safety of marijuana edibles and extraction devices used to make products like hash oil.
Dunlop shared some conversations he’s had with other public health officials from across the nation. He said most of his colleagues, despite not having recreational marijuana in their states, believe the public-health community has a lot of catching up to do before it clearly understands the full repercussions of the use of marijuana.
After the health officials all made their presentations, Commissioners George Newman and Rachel Richards both agreed that the marijuana industry was far ahead of the health community and that there is still a long way to go as far as public education.
That’s when DiSalvo offered his opinion on the amount of public outreach and work with the local dispensaries the Valley Marijuana Council has undertaken already.
“We’ve already taken on about 75 percent of the issues discussed here today,” he said. “We’re working to get the edibles out of the hands of children. We asked the dispensaries to get rid of the look-alike products, and they’re working with us to do just that. We’ve developed a pamphlet that we want to have in as many hotel rooms as possible that gives a lot of information on buying and using marijuana. I think we’re getting the message out there, especially in Aspen.”
DiSalvo then spoke directly to the commissioners about the Valley Marijuana Council meetings.
“I don’t think any of you have attended a meeting yet,” he said. “You should. I think we’re ahead of a lot of the issues discussed today.”
After the meeting, DiSalvo was asked what he could do to help the Board of Health get a better grasp of what the Valley Marijuana Council is accomplishing.
“I need to work harder to get the message out when I have the meetings,” DiSalvo said. “Maybe it would make more sense to have a separate meeting with the City Council and Board of County Commissioners to push the education forward with them. The best thing about today is now maybe we can all get on the same page and move our efforts forward.”