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Colorado lawmakers move to tighten edible marijuana laws

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Colorado lawmakers are moving to tighten laws governing the sale of marijuana-infused edibles, an issue that has gained attention following two deaths possibly linked to the ingestion of cannabis products, the measures' main sponsor said on Tuesday.

The state House of Representatives this week unanimously passed a bill limiting the amount of concentrated marijuana that can be sold, and another bill requiring more specific labeling of pot-laced products, such as candies and baked goods.

Rep. Frank McNulty, a Republican from suburban Denver, said the measures are needed to protect the public and assure that edibles are not mistakenly consumed by children.

"The packages of edibles are labeled that they contain marijuana, but once they're out of the package, they're indistinguishable from a brownie or lollipop bought at a grocery store," he said.

The bills will next be heard by the state Senate, where they appear to also have bipartisan support, McNulty said, adding that Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper has not indicated if he will sign the measures into law should they reach his desk.

Voters in Colorado legalized the possession and use of cannabis by adults in 2012, and the first retail pot shops opened in the state this January.

McNulty said the need for the legislation is punctuated by two recent deaths in Denver that have possible connections to edible marijuana.

Last month, Levi Thamba Pongi, a student from the Republic of Congo who attended college in Wyoming, leaped to his death from a hotel balcony after ingesting six times the suggested amount of marijuana cookies, according to the Denver medical examiner's office.

Pongi had come to Colorado on spring break along with several friends to sample marijuana. Investigators noted that the clerk at the store who sold the group the pot warned them not to eat an entire cookie at once.

However, Pongi ingested an entire cookie after he did not immediately feel the effects of marijuana. Hours later, he began behaving violently, culminating with his leap off the fourth-story balcony.

The Denver coroner's office listed "marijuana intoxication" as a contributing factor in Pongi's death.

In the other incident, a 47-year-old Denver man is accused of shooting his wife to death as she was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, saying that her husband had used marijuana, was hallucinating and was frightening her and the couple's three children.

A search warrant affidavit filed in the case by a Denver police sergeant said Richard Kirk had recently purchased a joint and pot-infused candy from a marijuana shop, although he noted that Kirk may have been under the influence of prescription painkillers.

Kirk has been charged with first-degree murder for his wife's slaying and what, if any, substances he had in his system has not been publicly released.

Mike Elliot, executive director of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, said his organization asked lawmakers to clarify the current law on concentrated marijuana, such as hash oil, months before the publicized deaths.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and G Crosse)

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