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Legalization of Marijuana Addresses at CBU's Distinguished Lecture Series

Riverside, Calif. (Oct. 13, 2015) – Colorado's top public health officer reflected on a variety of implications from the legalization of marijuana use during a lecture at California Baptist University.

Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational pot use in 2014. Currently, Washington is the only other state where recreational marijuana use is legal. Voters in California, where medical marijuana has been legal since 1996, could decide as soon as next year whether to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, spoke as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series. He discussed some of the impacts of the Colorado law's passage, such as an increase in emergency calls.

"In 2013 there were 136 calls to the poison control center for marijuana. In 2014, there were 238," Wolk said. "So those who are against legalization would say, ‘Wow a 100% increase in the number of calls for poisoning as it relates to the legalization of marijuana,'" he continued. "The people [on the other side of the argument] would say, ‘but look at the scale.' That is (only about) 100 more in a state of five and a half million people. This is something that bears watching."

Wolk also discussed efforts to educate the Colorado public on the "safe use" of marijuana.

"We have to ensure that all our residents and visitors understand the parameters of safe, legal and responsible use of marijuana…and that they understand the rules and what the potential effects are," Wolk said. 

Among the potential effects are marijuana serving as a gateway drug for teenagers, increase of marijuana-related hospital visits and increase marijuana-related DUI arrests since its legalization.

Wolk said by creating educational campaigns, his department aims to keep Colorado citizens informed on the safe use of marijuana, while also helping to prevent use in populations such as youths and pregnant women, for whom marijuana use is deemed unsafe.

Wolk also discussed the perceived positive consequences of marijuana legalization, such as the availability of a pain relief drug, an increase in tax revenue and statistics that so far indicate no significant increase in the number of marijuana users.