In the past few years, many states have begun to legalize the use of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Currently 25 states as well as the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for one or both of the aforementioned purposes. Of these, 20 states have legalized medical marijuana. The District of Columbia as well as Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Colorado have all legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational use.
As with any policy change, there will inevitably be new questions raised over various legal issues. For example, marijuana legalization presents new questions for police departments when determining if someone is too impaired to drive because of marijuana use. As The Atlantic points out, THC can stay in the system for a long period of time and may not be an accurate measure for how impaired someone is. Law enforcement must now determine how to tell if someone is "over the limit," much like alcohol.
A new issue is also being raised in the first wrongful death lawsuit that has been filed against marijuana companies. Two marijuana businesses in Colorado are by being sued by the victim's parents, on behalf of her three children. As reported by CBS News, in 2014, Kristine Kirk's husband allegedly began hallucinating after eating some marijuana candy. Kirk called 911 and told the operator that her husband was scaring their children and wanted Kirk to shoot him. However, it was Kirk who ended up shot instead, and she died from her injuries. Her husband, Richard Kirk, was arrested for her murder.
The Guardian reports that the suit claims that the candy, called Karma Kandy Ginger Orange, didn't warn the user of the potential risks, stating, “[t]he packaging and labeling further failed to apprise the consumer of the product's known side-effects, which … include hallucinations, paranoia, and psychosis, all of which Kristine reported to the 911 operator she had observed in her husband shortly before he murdered her.” The Denver Post stated that lawsuit also claims that the defendants, "negligently, recklessly and purposefully concealed vital dosage and labeling information from their actual and prospective purchasers, including Kirk, in order to make a profit."
Colorado does have laws that govern edible marijuana, but these laws were only put into effect after Kirk's murder. The regulations "restrict edibles to a serving size of 10-milligrams of THC, require child-resistant packaging and warning statements on side effects." The lawsuit names both the dispensary, Nutritional Elements, and the manufacturer, Gaia's Garden, as defendants.
The case is the apparently first of its kind, and presents another new question: how responsible are marijuana companies for the products they put on the market? Legal minds are already sounding off on the issue in the media. Rikki Klieman, a legal analyst for CBS, thinks the "marijuana companies will argue the industry should be protected from fault as with alcohol sellers, and shifting the blame onto Richard Kirk by showing that the killing was 'intentional.'" A law professor at the University of Denver, Sam Kamin, concurs stating, "We don't hold liquor stores responsible, and we don't hold vodka producers responsible for drunk drivers."
Ultimately this question will be decided by a judge or a jury, depending on whether the case goes to trial or not. It will be interesting to see the outcome of this lawsuit as even more states are considering making marijuana legal for recreational use this year.