First legal weed-related death reported in Colorado

By Travis Gettys
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 14:45 EDT
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A picture taken on April 12, 2013 shows plants of marijuana at the plantation on the island of Gran Canaria, Spain [AFP]
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A Wyoming college student visiting Colorado on spring break is the first reported death related to the legal sale of recreational marijuana.

Levy Thamba, a student at Northwest College, fell to his death last month from the balcony of a Holiday Inn in Denver.

Autopsy results released Monday showed the 19-year-old Thamba, who was also known as Levi Thamba Pongi, died from multiple injuries caused by the fall.

But the coroner also listed “marijuana intoxication” from a pot-infused cookie as a significant contributor to the student’s death.

“He was fine, he was normal, he was an easy-going kid, and then he ate this cookie and went over the balcony, and this was not a kid who was suicidal,” said Michelle Weiss-Samaras, a spokeswoman for Denver’s Office of the Medical Examiner.

The autopsy findings showed the marijuana concentration in Thamba’s blood was 7.2 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood.

State law sets a standard of 5 nanograms per milliliter in impaired driving cases.

Legal sales of recreational marijuana to people older than 21 years old began in January, and Thamba’s death is the first to be publicly linked by authorities to the drug.

The student was too young to legally purchase marijuana under the law, and investigators have not said how he obtained it.

Thamba, who was from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, started attending the college in January as an engineering student.

Autopsy results were publicized the same day USA Today published an alarmist report citing concerns by parents, teachers, and law enforcement that the easy availability of marijuana-infused goods put children at risk.

“You never know when they’re walking down the hall what they’re eating,” said Steve Saunders, a spokesman for Shaw Heights Middle School in Westminster, Colo. “It’s a lot harder to tell when they’re eating edibles instead of out smoking a joint in the parking lot.”

The Rocky Mountain Poison Center reported it handles about 70 reports each year by parents who say their child had consumed marijuana, and a spokesman said the number of cases has risen each year since pot became more available in 2009.

A physician and toxicology expert said his emergency room treats about one or two children each month for accidental marijuana ingestion, usually in the form of food or sweets.

“It’s a trend and a change we need to anticipate and watch going forward, rather than letting it get out of hand,” said Dr. George Wang, of Children’s Hospital Denver. “We’ve had kids who have been very sick, and we don’t want to wait for a kid to die before we act.”

Watch this video report posted online by USA Today:

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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