What you read about cannabis isn’t always the truth

Maureen Dowd

You remember Keith Kilbey? Well, perhaps not by name, but you probably do remember him. He’s the young man who plowed into two police cars blocking an Adams County exit ramp in January and was arrested for driving under the influence of drugs. Guy was so stoned on pot, the state patrol said, he couldn’t even see the warning lights flashing on two police cars. It made local and international news and why not? For hungry media, it was just too good a story.

Kilbey’s arrest was played large across television, internet and newspapers. Cannabis had been legalized in Colorado just 10 days before, and the world’s press had plenty of space to fill. The state patrol got ahead of the game, quickly identifying Kilbey as a poster child for the dangers of driving stoned.

“This time we were fortunate,” said a spokesperson, “but many officers across the nation are not so lucky.”

It was a good story, one of those that get people talking, except that it wasn’t quite true. As Radley Balko wrote in the Washington Post last weekend, Kilbey was stoned. But he was also drunk. Deadly drunk. The only relevant fact that wasn’t mentioned by the state patrol was that Kilbey blew a .268 on his alcohol test. The legal limit is .08. That is dangerously drunk, which is relevant in this case.

A Denver Post story on Feb. 10 reported that neither Kilbey’s summons nor the accident report mentioned cannabis. In fact, Balko reports — and meticulously links to all the media sources he mentions — that the first time alcohol is mentioned as the leading factor in the Kilbey story was after his trial last Thursday, in a Denver Post story under the headline “Drunk, stoned driver takes plea deal after car crash in Adams County.”

Huh? Finally we find out that Kilbey did have cannabis in his system, more than the state’s new legal limit. But someone who tests three times over the legal alcohol limit is much more likely to do things like run into parked police cars than someone who has ingested cannabis alone. But as we used to say in the newspaper business, nobody remembers the correction. Five months after the fact, most people will just recall the headlines about the stupid, stoned driver and the dangers of cannabis and driving.

Another round of cannabis headlines appeared last week in response to New York Times’ columnist Maureen Dowd’s June 3 column that detailed her bad night in a hotel room after ingesting too much of a cannabis edible during a Colorado visit in January.

“I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours,” Dowd wrote. “I was thirsty but couldn’t move to get water. Or even turn off the lights.”

Fortunately, cannabis is not lethal. Unlike with alcohol or prescription drugs, you can’t overdose, and the effects go away, though, like Dowd, they might take longer to leave the body than expected. Dowd had a bad night, but she’s still the same queen of snark we all know and love. One person’s euphoria is another’s paranoia.

Dowd was trying to use a personal story to make the point that Colorado has “some kinks that need to be ironed out with the intoxicating open bar at the Mile High Club.” That’s hardly news in Colorado.

More education about edibles and consistency of product are two things that have to happen, and both the state and shop owners are working on them.

By all means, if you’re inexperienced around cannabis and interested in edibles, take Dowd’s experience to heart. Among the many reasons edibles are popular is because smoking turns many people off. When you smoke cannabis, it enters your body through your lungs, and you can feel the effects almost immediately. When you eat cannabis, it enters through your digestive system. and it can take a while for the effects to begin. So if you don’t feel anything after a while, you might consume more. That’s what Dowd admits doing, and it was unpleasant. I suggest novices use a vaporizer to find out if you like the experience before moving into edibles. And don’t do it by yourself in a hotel room.

I have experienced varied reactions to edibles. I had a couple nights when, somewhat like Dowd, I just curled up in a chair with my iPod and headphones. But I can also remember long walks through the redwood forests in California that were even more magical after eating an edible about an hour before we headed into the woods. In a sense, context is everything.

But even Dowd, who was never in any real danger, referenced two other big-headline cases that police linked, at least originally, to cannabis use: the death of 19-year-old Levi Thamba, who ate an edible sometime before jumping to his death from a Denver hotel balcony, and Richard Kirk, a Denver man who shot his wife, apparently after eating cannabis and too many prescription drugs.

Despite the early headlines, we still don’t know exactly what happened in those two cases. Headlines aside, cannabis legalization in Colorado is rolling out pretty smoothly. Media will continue to focus on the bad rather than the good. But until we find out more about all these cases, be careful what you’re reading out there. And don’t miss Balko’s investigative look into the Kilbey case. Things are not always as they seem.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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