Is Colorado a safe tourist spot for youth?

Lee's Summit JournalMay 16, 2014 

In Denver on March 11, a foreign exchange student fell to his death from a hotel balcony after eating a marijuana infused cookie. This was the first reported death in the city since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana.

Levi Thamba Pongi, 19, died from injuries related to the fall. Marijuana intoxication is listed as “a significant condition” contributing to the accident. Levi, from the Republic of Congo, attended Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming. He went on spring break to Denver with three other exchange students to try marijuana.

It was first reported that all four sampled the marijuana cookie, one girl got sick, and Levi “went off the wall” and leapt from the balcony. The autopsy showed that Levi had a 7.2-nanogram per milliliter level of THC and no other drugs or alcohol in his system. Under Colorado law, a person is considered impaired at a 5-nanogram threshold of THC.

After more investigation, it was found that Levi ate more than six times the recommended amount of the marijuana cookie.

Christine Thurstone, an addiction expert, said, “Right off the bat 15 percent of people can have a psychotic reaction and someone who has never used it before is at a greater risk.”

Smoking marijuana goes quickly to the brain, but ingesting it means it takes longer to impact the body and to feel high. It is easy to over consume edibles.

After 30 minutes, Levi said he didn’t feel a high and ate the entire cookie immediately. His death is tragic and senseless. Levi was underage to buy marijuana in Colorado. However, the dispensary clerk at Sweet Grass Kitchen advised the group that they divide the cookie into six pieces. The clerk should have asked the four minors for identification and then asked them to leave. The 19-year-olds did not purchase the marijuana; a 23-year-old did and then gave them the cookies.

In Missouri, if someone under the age of 21 is hospitalized or dies from alcohol poisoning a civil suit can be brought against the business that sold the alcohol and/or the person who provided the alcohol. Marijuana should not be handled differently. Currently there is not a civil suit being filed in Colorado regarding Levi’s death.

One blogger wrote, “marijuana doesn’t kill people, balconies do.” That is a callous reaction to the tragic death. Hundreds of local teens go to Colorado for skiing vacations annually. There are many that may have the same recreational ideas as Levi. “Why not sample marijuana while we are on spring break?” Who will protect them? Their friends, the shop owners? Holding others accountable for what happened to Levi will be the first step in saving the lives of others.


Roby Little is the director of Lee’s Summit CARES and a Lee’s Summit resident.

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