CBS Highlights Problems After Marijuana Legalization in Colorado

In a report aired on Sunday's 60 Minutes on CBS -- and previewed in a piece on Friday's CBS Evening News -- medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook highlighted some of the problems seen in Colorado that have increased in the couple of years since the state legalized marijuana use in 2014.

LaPook spoke with a doctor from Pueblo County who recalled a substantial increase in women giving birth whose newborn babies test positive for marijuana, threatening the babies with permanent brain development problems. After also recounting a substantial increase in illegal production forcing many more law enforcement actions, the CBS correspondent also recalled the difficulty in detecting marijuana use in drivers.

LaPook began by forwarding the views of Dr. Steven Simerville of Pueblo's St. Mary Corwin Medical Center, who supports an effort in his county to ban marijuana use there. LaPook:

He supports the ballot initiative to ban recreational pot -- in part because he says he's noticed more babies being born with marijuana in their system. His observations are anecdotal, but he's concerned by what he has seen in his own hospital. In the first nine months of this year, 27 babies born at this hospital tested positive for THC -- the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. That's on track to be about 15 percent higher than last year.

After Dr. Simerville was seen informing LaPook that there are currently newborn babies at the hospital being treated for marijuana exposure, LaPook followed up: "What does the mother say when you say, 'Your baby just tested positive for marijuana and it can possibly harm the baby'? What does the mother say?"

Dr. Simerville recalled that pot legalization has contributed to the misconception that, because it is legal, it is not harmful for the babies of pregnant women:

SIMERVILLE: They are not surprised that they tested positive. Obviously they know they've been smoking marijuana. But they're in disbelief that it's harmful. They frequently say, "How can it be harmful? It's a legal drug."

LAPOOK: Dr. Simerville says that's a common misconception, especially because 25 states have approved marijuana for medical use for conditions like epilepsy, pain, and stimulation of appetite. But on the federal level, it's still illegal. Today's pot is, on average, four to five times stronger than it was in the 1980s. It can also get passed on to babies in high concentrations in breast milk.

Viewers were then informed of the dangers for babies in brain development:

SIMERVILLE: I try to explain to them that even though you're not smoking very much, the baby is getting seven time more than you're taking, and that this drug has been shown to cause harm in developing brains.

LAPOOK: Research suggests babies exposed to marijuana in utero may develop verbal, memory, and behavioral problems during early childhood.

After recalling a 70 percent increase in teenagers visiting the emergency room testing positive for marijuana, LaPook informed viewers of the possible ill effects for teens using marijuana:

That worries Dr. Simerville because evidence is emerging that heavy teenage use -- using four to five days a week -- may be linked to long-term damage in areas of the brain that help control cognitive functions like attention, memory, and decision-making. It's not known if there's any amount of marijuana that is safe for the developing brain, which may still be maturing during the mid to late 20s.

The piece then moved to dealing with the burdens on law enforcement in having to find increased illegal growing of marijuana, and the difficulty in detecting the substance in the bodies of those illegally driving under the influence.

Below are transcripts of relevant portions of the Sunday, October 30, 60 Minutes on CBS:

DR. JON LAPOOK, CBS NEWS MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: When recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, most counties chose not to allow the production or sale of it. Pueblo did, and there have been both profits and problems ever since.

DR. STEVEN SIMERVILLE, ST. MARY CORWIN MEDICAL CENTER: It's affecting the emergency room. It's affecting the operating room. It's affecting just about every aspect of medicine that you can think of.

LAPOOK: Dr. Steven Simerville is a pediatrician and medical director of the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Pueblo's St. Mary Corwin Medical Center. He supports the ballot initiative to ban recreational pot -- in part because he says he's noticed more babies being born with marijuana in their system. His observations are anecdotal, but he's concerned by what he has seen in his own hospital. In the first nine months of this year, 27 babies born at this hospital tested positive for THC -- the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. That's on track to be about 15 percent higher than last year. When was the last time you took care of a baby who tested positive for marijuana?

SIMERVILLE: I have babies up on the unit right now for marijuana.

LAPOOK: And when were they born?

SIMERVILLE: All of them are within a week.

LAPOOK: What does the mother say when you say, "Your baby just tested positive for marijuana and it can possibly harm the baby"? What does the mother say?

SIMERVILLE: They are not surprised that they tested positive. Obviously they know they've been smoking marijuana. But they're in disbelief that it's harmful. They frequently say, "How can it be harmful? It's a legal drug."

LAPOOK: Dr. Simerville says that's a common misconception, especially because 25 states have approved marijuana for medical use for conditions like epilepsy, pain, and stimulation of appetite. But on the federal level, it's still illegal. Today's pot is, on average, four to five times stronger than it was in the 1980s. It can also get passed on to babies in high concentrations in breast milk.

SIMERVILLE: I try to explain to them that even though you're not smoking very much, the baby is getting seven time more than you're taking, and that this drug has been shown to cause harm in developing brains.

LAPOOK: Research suggests babies exposed to marijuana in utero may develop verbal, memory, and behavioral problems during early childhood.

SIMERVILLE: You need to be able to protect babies, and you're going to need to protect teenagers. And by teenagers with developing brains, you're going to have to take in mind that marijuana potentially permanently affects brain growth until people are 25 or 30.

LAPOOK: In the first 10 months of this year, 71 teenagers came into the emergency room at this hospital with marijuana in their system. Which is on track to be about 70 percent higher than last year. That worries Dr. Simerville because evidence is emerging that heavy teenage use -- using four to five days a week -- may be linked to long-term damage in areas of the brain that help control cognitive functions like attention, memory, and decision-making. It's not known if there's any amount of marijuana that is safe for the developing brain, which may still be maturing during the mid to late 20s. Law enforcement officers in Pueblo County believe they, too, are seeing more marijuana-related problems.

[Report recalls a big increase in marijuana busts for illegal growing at homes for export.]

LAPOOK: Illegal grows like this are not the only problem cops here are facing. Some people are getting high, then getting behind the wheel. And there is currently no field sobriety test in use that is the equivalent of the breathalyzer for alcohol, though Colorado police are experimenting with roadside oral swab tests.

DR. MARILYN HUESTUS, NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE: There's huge differences between alcohol and marijuana, and that's one of the things that the public really needs to understand is they think, "Well, we can take all the rules and everything we've set up for alcohol and just transfer them over." And they can't do that.

LAPOOK: Dr. Marilyn Huestus, former chief of chemistry and drug metabolism at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has been studying marijuana's effects on the human body for more than 25 years.

HUESTUS: When you take alcohol, it has its effects, and then it leaves the body. When you take cannibis, it gets into the tissues of your body and is stored.

LAPOOK: It can be stored in the fat.

HUESTUS: It's stored in the fat.

LAPOOK: How about in the brain?

HUESTUS: And the brain is a very fatty tissue. And so we know that it's still in the brain when you can no longer measure it in the blood.

LAPOOK: So far, Colorado hasn't seen a huge spike in driving while high or in marijuana abuse by teens. But the data is still being collected on pot's overall impact on the state.


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