CONTACT Colorado grants more pot licenses to youth - Dr. Christian Thurstone

The number of Coloradans ages 18-20 who have been granted medical marijuana licenses has increased every year for the last four and appears on track to increase again in 2013, according to data released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.

And of the 18-20-year olds with medical marijuana licenses in Colorado, more than 72 percent list ill-defined “severe pain” as their only medical condition for needing to use the drug, according to state data

The data underscore Colorado’s profound difficulties with regulating the substance. Recreational marijuana use — legalized by state voters in November 2012 — is permitted for people 21 and older. However, Colorado also allows 18-year-olds to get a medical marijuana license without parental consent. Children under 18 may obtain a medical marijuana license with the signature of a consenting parent or legal guardian.

As many current medical marijuana dispensaries prepare to convert fully to retail shops in January 2014, or to expand their medical operations with sections for recreational buyers, it appears more 18-to-20-year-olds are willing to declare chronic illness to ensure they continue to have front-door entry. Many marijuana establishments will sell recreational and medical marijuana and supplies from the same buildings.

Dr. Thurstone’s research has examined diversion of medical marijuana to Colorado youth. See:

Among the state’s data about 18-20-year-old marijuana license holders (see the full response here):

  • In December 2009 — the start of the boom of dispensaries in Colorado — there were 1,802 medical marijuana license holders ages 18-20. In December 2012, there were 4,021 license holders in that age range — a nearly 45 percent increase when comparing these two months.
  • In May 2013, there were 4,528 medical marijuana license holders ages 18-20 — suggesting that the state is on track to see yet another increase in December 2013.
  • Medical marijuana holders ages 18-20 overwhelmingly are male — which is also consistent with drug-abuse and/or addiction profiles. In May 2013, a little more than 78 percent of these license holders were male, and almost 22 percent were female.

The state released these data in response to a public-information request filed July 30, 2013, on behalf of Smart Colorado, a nonprofit group billing itself as a watchdog to ensure the public’s interests come before the marijuana industry’s.

Smart Colorado’s request:

We would like statistics for the following categories from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, Medical Marijuana Division, concerning medical marijuana registrations in December 2009, December 2010, December 2011, December 2012 and May 2013. We would like to know:

  • The numbers of registry patients ages 18, 19 and 20
  • The percentages of all registry patients who are ages 18, 19 and 20
  • The percentages of registered patients ages 18-20, broken down by gender
  • The percentages of registered patients ages 18-20 who report the qualifying condition of “severe pain,” and the percentages of these young people who report “severe pain” as their only condition.

About Christine Tatum

Christine Tatum is a veteran journalist whose communications and market intel firm, Media Salad, Inc., helps companies and nonprofit organizations win business and stay ahead of their competitors. Her professional stops include the Chicago Tribune, The Denver Post, the (Arlington Heights, Ill.) Daily Herald and the (Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record. Her work also has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, and New York Times.

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