Colorado Lawsuit Blames Murder on Edible Marijuana

In this Dec. 11, 2014 photo, a customer looks at marijuana edibles for sale at a recreational dispensary in Breckenridge, Colo. Some marijuana edibles could be coming off Colorado shelves, the latest front in a battle by lawmakers to eradicate retail pot products that could appeal to kids. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

You may remember the 2014 murder of Kristine Kirk allegedly by her husband Richard, in what appeared to be a THC-fueled paranoid rage.

Now their children have filed a wrongful death suit against the recreational marijuana company which produced the THC “edibles” Kirk was reported to have taken before the murder:


The maker of the candy, Gaia’s Garden LLC, and its distributor, Nutritional Elements Inc., both of Denver, stand accused of failing to warn customers that edibles could lead to paranoia, psychosis and hallucinations.

“The packaging and labeling for the potent candy contained no directions, instructions or recommendations respecting the product’s proper consumption or use,” said the lawsuit filed in May in Denver District Court. “The edible producers negligently, recklessly and purposefully concealed vital dosage and labeling information from their actual and prospective purchasers including Kirk in order to make a profit.”

I covered the lighter side of the edibles debate for PJTV last year, although I can’t find the link. So to recap: Emergency room visits were way up for non-residents, so-called “pot tourists,” who weren’t reading the directions on their edibles and were consuming way too much THC. We’re not talking large numbers of people, but the percentage increase was huge. It’s easy to overdose on edibles because the high takes an hour or more to kick in — and impatient tourists were eating THC candy like… well… like candy.

But in the early days of legalization here in Colorado — which includes the time of Kristine Kirk’s murder — edibles manufacturers were under no legal obligation to label their product with recommended dosages or warn consumers about the time delay.

Here’s what Colorado lawmakers did just two weeks after Kirk’s murder, and you can be sure the timing was no coincidence:


A task force gathered Wednesday to start brainstorming ways to educate consumers, including a standard warning system on popular edibles, which is the industry term for marijuana that has been concentrated and infused into food or drink.

One idea was to fashion labels on edible pot like the difficulty guidelines on ski slopes, a system very familiar to Colorado residents. Weak marijuana products would have green dots, grading up to black diamonds for the most potent edibles.

The new rules went into effect on February 1 of last year, and require that “edibles sold recreationally must be wrapped individually or demarked in increments of 10 or fewer milligrams of activated THC.”

Manufacturers responded positively:

An example of the shift is seen in Dixie Elixirs’ popular infused mints. The mints used to come loose in a tin, 10 mints at 10 milligrams each (100 milligrams total). Dixie’s new mints come packed individually in blister packs, similar to some pill and gum packaging, 16 mints at 5 milligrams apiece (80 milligrams total).

The reason behind the lower potency: Dixie is playing it safe, making sure the now-individually wrapped edibles wouldn’t surpass 10 milligrams apiece — hoping to cash in on the state’s new incentives, including less stringent testing, for low-dose products. The new mints as a package also are less likely to top the state’s 100-milligram limit. If a recreational edible tests for more than 100 milligrams of activated THC, its maker risks being forced to destroy the entire batch.

“A lot of us are being conservative when we approach product development,” said Dixie marketing chief Joe Hodas. “Instead of pushing the upper limit of a 100-milligram product, we’d rather put out a 90-milligram product.”


But back to the Kirk case.

The Los Angeles Times writeup goes on to note:

The new lawsuit says that the candy Richard Kirk ate the night of the shooting contained more than 100 milligrams of THC. But toxicology reports showed that the concentration of THC in his blood was less than half the legal limit that qualifies as stoned driving.

Prosecutors contend that Kirk killed his wife as a result of increasing marital stress, not consuming marijuana. He initially pleaded not guilty but has changed that to not guilty by reason of insanity.

This is a tough case, with a mother of three (allegedly) murdered in her home by her own husband who had for a fact consumed THC candy. The natural desire to make somebody pay for this crime is strong.

However, neither Gaia’s Garden nor Nutritional Elements seems to have been in violation of Colorado law at the time of the murder. And as others have noted, we don’t hold alcohol distillers accountable for the actions of dumb drunk people, and gunmakers can’t be held liable for murders committed with their weapons. Although the Nanny Staters are certainly working to change the latter and eventually will turn their attention to the former, too.

But that’s not the law we follow today, so there doesn’t seem to be much of a case here for the plaintiffs. Kirk changing his plea to “not guilty by reason of insanity” would seem to indicate that not even his defense lawyers think THC is to blame.


That said, the new regulations put into place on edibles seem smart and prudent, and are likely far from the last word lawmakers will have on the issue. We’re still feeling our way around legalization here in Colorado, and hopefully we’ll set some good regulatory examples for other states to follow and avoid our pitfalls.

The major responsibility rests, as ever, with the individual. Don’t drink until you throw up or pass out, and never eat more than one or two slow-acting pieces of THC edibles. Any time you put intoxicants into your body that much faster than your body can process them, you’re asking for trouble.

So read the label and use some common sense.


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