DENVER, Colo. — Nearly nine years after voters legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado, one family is asking lawmakers to look closer at the impacts high-potency marijuana is having on the state.
“We were a normal family,” John Stack said. “If this can happen to us, it can happen to anyone.”
“We don’t want other parents to go through this hell,” his wife Laura Stack said, echoing his sentiment.
The couple’s 19-year old son, Johnny, took his life on Nov. 20, 2019.
“I know that marijuana killed my son,” John said.
“It’s the worst day of my life,” Laura Stack said, remembering the call they got from Douglas County Sheriff’s deputies informing them that their son had committed suicide by jumping off an RTD parking garage.
John and Laura believe using high-potency marijuana, known as dabbing, carved their son’s path to suicide.
“He was actually brilliant,” Laura Stack said, noting Johnny’s 4.0 grade-point average and perfect score on the math portion of the SAT.
After their son’s death, the Stacks found a video of Johnny dabbing and driving on his phone.
Dabbing is a slang term for consuming high-potency marijuana that is sold in a wax form legally at Colorado marijuana dispensaries.
John Stack said his son had become “psychotic.”
The Stacks learned their son was able to get a medical marijuana card shortly after turning 18 and believe that opened the door to him experimenting with dabbing.
“I don’t think most parents understand this is a different marijuana we are talking about,” Laura Stack said.
Marijuana purchased on the black market illegally decades ago generally had a potency of between 3-5% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Concentrates available in Colorado today can be up to 90% THC.
Using hidden cameras to gain candid responses about dabbing, a KMGH producer visited three Denver-area dispensaries.
“It’s been growing in popularity ever since the industry legalized,” one budtender said when asked if dabbing was a “fad.”
Another budtender described her personal experience.
“When I first took a dab, it was just too big a hit for me the first time, so I just passed out,” she said.
KMGH visited the Institute of Cannabis Research at Colorado State University Pueblo to inquire about the current understanding surrounding high-potency marijuana.
“There are a lot of questions out there about cannabis in general,” Director Chad Kinney said. Dr. Ken Finn, who spent four years on Colorado’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Council, followed the story of Johnny Stack’s death and believes his history of using high-potency marijuana contributed to the suicide.
“He was diagnosed with cannabis psychosis and sometimes that’s a bridge you can’t uncross when you become psychotic,” he said.
Finn added that he would like to see the Colorado Department of Health and Environment step up its efforts to educate Colorado residents about the potential risks of high-potency marijuana.
“They should be the ones that are helping communities understand the risks and benefits in the marijuana world, and they are not,” he said.
Laura Stack said she called CDPHE after Johnny died to try to obtain the name of the doctor who gave her son a medical marijuana card. She says they told her it was protected information.
KMGH requested an interview with CDPHE to discuss rules that protect the disclosure of doctor’s names and Finn’s claim the state was not doing enough to educate residents about the risks of high-potency marijuana. The interview request was denied.
In a statement to KMGH, the organization said: “In the best interest of public health, we suggest funding research to answer these questions.”
In recent months, CDPHE has published opinion that more research is needed on the impacts of high-potency marijuana.
In the coming weeks, the issue of additional regulations for medical and recreational marijuana is expected to be discussed by the Colorado legislature. Many believe the discussion will include the possibility of capping potency in the state.
This story was originally published by Tony Kovaleski at KMGH.