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Harshing the pot buzz: Maureen Dowd makes a good point, badly

A 62-year-old woman mixed alcohol with 16-times the recommended dosage of edible marijuana and freaked out so badly, she actually thought she was dead. Depending on your attitude toward pot, this could either be seen as deeply troubling or really f-ing funny. But regardless, when the woman in question is a columnist for the New York Times, it’s going to be news.

In January, Times columnist Maureen Dowd visited Colorado to cover the buzz about the first legal sales of marijuana to adults over the age of 21. She claims that after taking multiple “nibbles” off of a pot-infused candy bar, she felt nothing for the first hour. After ordering room service, Dowd resigned herself to “my more mundane drugs of choice, chardonnay and mediocre-movies-on-demand.” Soon, however, things started getting weird for the writer:

“I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours. I was thirsty but couldn’t move to get water. Or even turn off the lights. I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy.

"I strained to remember where I was or even what I was wearing, touching my green corduroy jeans and staring at the exposed-brick wall. As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.”

The conclusion she reaches is that “some kinks need to be ironed out with the intoxicating open bar at the Mile High Club.” The column has been lambasted by other writers, like The Huffington Post’s Jason Likins, as “a toxic dose of concern-trolling.” And the actual argument she constructs is deeply unconvincing, because, as Linkins notes, journalists especially should exercise caution and common sense when trying an unknown substance for the first time.

But you know what else is lacking basic common sense? The packaging and production of the edibles themselves.

Lets run a quick experiment: try taking a single bite out of a cookie and then put the rest away. How’d that work out for you? It’s counter-intuitive to every single impulse in the human body, yet many if not most marijuana edibles -- often packaged as cookies, brownies, truffles, and other sweets -- are multi-dose. You are actually expected to take one bite of a chocolate bar, put it away, and return to it later. Do you know anyone outside of those on the cruelest of diets that would do such a thing to food?

This is compounded by the inevitable wait time that comes with edibles. When marijuana is smoked, its effects are felt almost immediately; not so with edibles. It can take an hour or more for the THC to take hold in those who have ingested pot orally, and its effects are often felt more sharply and for longer periods of time. Among my friends who regularly use marijuana, it’s difficult to find someone who hasn’t had “a bad trip” as a result of edibles, because people often assume its not working and end up taking too much, just as Dowd did. Because it’s physiologically impossible to die of a pot overdose, these types of marijuana freakouts can be quite funny in retrospect. But for those experiencing them in the moment, it truly is frightening.

Colorado is already working on this edible issue, but it’s imperative that the new rules maintain the kind of common sense inherent to the spirit of the law itself. For instance, marking edibles with a “pot symbol” makes little sense as a deterrent for children, as all marijuana products -- edible or otherwise -- are already required to be sold in child-proof packaging and only end up in the hands of kids through parental negligence. But single-dose standardization that conforms to the way human beings actually consume food does make sense, as does testing products for uniformity.

Dowd’s column is rhetorically messy, and it’s title -- “Don’t Harsh Our Mellow, Dude” -- is both condescending and misleading. It’s also an honest account of a problem that needs to be addressed. Because when legalization proponents become as defensive and inflexible as the marijuana prohibitionists, how is that progress?