FALMOUTH — The leader of a Colorado drug-prohibition enforcement program warned Mainers on Tuesday about the implications of recreational marijuana legalization, including increases in use among youth and problems with edible marijuana products.

Thomas Gorman, a former undercover drug agent and current director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, spoke at a forum in Falmouth about the impact of marijuana legalization in Colorado, marijuana commercialization, and public health and safety issues connected to legal pot use.

The forum – “Recreational Marijuana Legalization: What are the implications?” – was sponsored by the Casco Bay Create Awareness Now Coalition, a group of individuals, schools, law enforcement agencies and organizations that is working to prevent substance abuse by youths. About two dozen people, including law enforcement officers, turned out for the forum.

Gorman highlighted what he said are some of the major issues that come along with increasing access to marijuana and normalizing its use, including a jump in the number of teens and adults who report trying pot. Colorado now has 369 licensed marijuana retail stores and 98 licensed producers of edible marijuana products. Companies are advertising edibles and other products, often with displays that appear to be geared toward children, he said.

“Edibles today in Colorado are a disaster,” he said, referring to products that often are packaged to look like popular candy and that are easy to consume in large quantities.

The spotlight on problems with marijuana legalization comes as two groups are collecting signatures to place recreational marijuana legalization questions on Maine’s 2016 ballot. Legalize Maine and the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Maine have developed plans that would allow adults 21 and older to use marijuana recreationally. Maine has allowed medical marijuana since 1999.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but Colorado and Washington state legalized the drug for recreational use in 2012. Last year, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., approved measures to legalize recreational pot.

The mission of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, run by the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, is to combat drug trafficking through cooperation among federal, state and local agencies. The group has released three reports about the impact of marijuana legalization for medical and recreational use in Colorado.

The 2015 report says that impaired driving related to marijuana is increasing, but recognizes that statewide data are limited. The number of driving under the influence of drugs citations in Denver increased 100 percent from 2013 to 2014, from 33 to 66 arrests, according to the report.

The report indicates those numbers are not reflective of the total number because marijuana may not be noted by an officer if a driver is also impaired by alcohol.

The report also shows a 6.6 percent increase in marijuana use in the previous month among youths ages 12 to 17. The Colorado average for youth use in the past month is now more than 11 percent, compared to a national average of just over 7 percent. Colorado ranks third in the nation for use among youth, according to the report.

David Boyer, head of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Maine, said “it is important to keep in mind this is most certainly a piece of political literature.”

“It’s not an objective government report,” Boyer said. “This is a case of cherry-picking data and leaving out other data they think will refute what they want to share. They’re coming here to scare people into saying the sky has fallen in Colorado.”

Boyer disputes the report’s findings on youth marijuana use, pointing instead to a Colorado Healthy Kids Survey that found the trend for current and lifetime marijuana use among teens has remained stable since 2005. The same survey found a drop in past 30-day use among Colorado high school students, while that rate increased nationwide.

Boyer said there is no evidence that shows repealing marijuana prohibition laws will result in more traffic accidents. The data used in the Colorado report do not necessarily indicate impairment, just the presence of marijuana in the car or in a person’s system from previous use, he said.

Paul McCarrier, head of Legalize Maine, said the focus on driving while impaired data as cited in the Colorado report is problematic because it is not based on scientific evidence people were actually driving under the influence.

“This could be as simple as someone having marijuana in the vehicle or having it there in the past,” he said. “This (information) is obviously coming from a group that is biased against any type of drug reform policy.”

While in Maine, Gorman will also speak at “Marijuana in the New Millennium,” a statewide summit sponsored by Bangor Public Health and Healthy Acadia in partnership with the Bangor Public Health and Community Services’ Substance Abuse Task Force. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at The Gracie Theater at Husson University in Bangor.


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