Throughout its prohibition, weed had a clean slate when it came to fatalities. As soon as the wave of legalization began, a handful of highly publicized but ultimately erroneous reports threatened to break the streak. This week, a young man fell to his death from the fourth floor of a Holiday Inn in Denver, and the coroner reported marijuana as a contributing factor. Levy Thamba Pongi consumed an edible that put his blood THC level at 7.2 nanograms per milliliter, and then began acting erratic and eventually leapt off the balcony.
Unlike the utter bullshit logic of the “cannabis poisoning” case that took a British woman’s life earlier this year, this tragedy may actually have some truth to it. No one is saying that the weed in his system is the sole circumstance that made him jump, nor is anyone saying the weed itself harmed his body in a way that led to his death. If anything, the poor kid likely just ate more edibles than he could handle and lost control of his personal state. A Denver Post article notes that the coroner would say that alcohol was a significant contributing factor in a drunk driving death, so when something like this happens and there are no other details that compel an explanation, it’s likely the weed had something to do with it. As a spokesperson for the Denver Coroner’s office told the Post, "We have no history of any other issues until he eats a marijuana cookie and becomes erratic and this happens. It's the one thing we have that's significant."
Thamba reportedly came to Denver with friends specifically to try cannabis, and likely purchased the edibles from a local dispensary. Like him, many are now flocking to Denver to give cannabis a first try. Many are unaware that the weed there has been groomed for serious enthusiasts who smoke a lot, need strong weed to get high and won’t wig out when they consume too much. A novice walking into that situation is like a teenager walking into a moonshine distillery – he’s not going to know his limit and will probably end up in a bad place if he’s unsupervised.
After all the progress weed has made recently, it sucks to see reports that waywardly blame it for deaths, and our knee jerk reaction might be to deny it right off the bat. While this kid was responsible for himself and succumbed to his own bad decision-making, the story is no less tragic. Getting too high can have severe temporary effects on your thinking, and if you’re not expecting it to get that intense, you just might do something crazy.
One argument that has been raised is that makers of edibles are not adhering to legal guidelines or mislabeling the THC content of their products, making some edibles too strong and some too weak. By legal standards, if a tenth of a brownie is one serving, and you can have 10 milligrams in a serving, then eating that whole brownie will mess you up pretty good even if you’re a vet. Why not make the dosage in each bar lower so that a person can eat a whole one like normal and get pretty high and not go over the edge? Folks that are used to the current potency might contest that, but in the end there will end up being a lot more people who are new to weed who see a nicely labeled container of chocolates and think, “This is legal, I’m buying it in a store, and it’s packaged like normal candy, so that’s how I should consume it.” That person will take that home, without any guidance whatsoever, they will consume that candy like its normal candy, and then they will lose their minds, and maybe fall off a balcony. Maybe it’s best if we have a level playing field before the non-blazing public has something new to wig out about.