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Maureen Dowd's rocky mountain high [Commentary]

Wow. Does Maureen Dowd have an amazing job, or what?

Not only does the New York Times columnist occupy some of the most exclusive real estate in journalism, she got her editors to pay her way to Denver to score some dope and get high.

She sold the junket as a reporting trip. She'd been writing about Colorado's legalization of marijuana and wanted to see how the rollout was going. Makes sense. You don't cover the Super Bowl from your family room TV.

But you also don't suit up. And when the rookie doper — called a "noob" in the business — ate her way through an entire marijuana candy bar instead of taking just a bite, she had a really, really bad trip.

She ended up in the fetal position in her hotel room, in a paranoid haze, thinking that she was dead and nobody had told her. Once she came down many hours later, she wrote that this whole legalization of marijuana thing had some loose ends that needed to be tidied up. Like portion labels on candy bars.

Turns out, she had eaten enough to get 16 people high. Talk about bogarting the joint.

It happened because Ms. Dowd had become separated by her, for lack of a better term, pot tour guide. Apparently, you can now make a living in Colorado helping newbies and returning veterans understand the new potency of marijuana.

And somebody has to teach them to roll joints. Ms. Dowd didn't know how, so that's why she opted for the edible form, which takes several hours to take effect but can be much more potent. Smoking marijuana, by contrast, delivers a high in a couple of minutes and is therefore easier to manage. If you are really buzzed, you just don't take any more hits. Experts say.

But it was the reaction to Ms. Dowd's reefer madness column that made me realize that we have officially move to a new normal: Colorado was criticized for its poor marijuana business model.

No new business wants its customers to have a Maureen Dowd experience. Your repeat business is going to drop off precipitously if every newcomer eats too much and ends up in the hospital convinced they are covered in ants.

(Are you listening Washington state? There they are planning to roll out a liquid version of the chemical THC found in marijuana to spill into your — yes — coffee. The Starbucks state faces the unique challenge of finding just the right dose for "energized and optimistic" as opposed to "lethargic and hungry." Too much and coffee breaks will have a new, psychiatric definition.)

There is clearly a learning curve with marijuana. But there is also one with alcohol, and most people seem to figure it out eventually. It is just that you don't chug a beer and then find out it was 150 proof beer. And, generally, you don't take your first drink alone in a hotel room — and then mistakenly drink the whole fifth. Soon enough, you learn how much wine makes you funny but not asleep.

The majority of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana, but my guess is that is because they understand what a criminal burden its sale and use has been on young people — not because they want to lock themselves in a Denver hotel room and see what happens.

Our own state of Maryland has decriminalized the drug, and one of our candidates for governor, Del. Heather Mizeur, favors its legalization. As is the case with cigarettes and alcohol, we are willing to let adults make their own decisions about such products. It has taken us a long time to realize that education and sensible regulation — not criminal prosecution — is the way to handle marijuana.

And, as per Ms. Dowd's experience, proper labeling for portion size and potency looks to be essential.

In the meantime, I would love to hear what the late gonzo journalist, Rolling Stone's Hunter S. Thompson, had to say about the fact that a columnist from the stuffy New York Times had taken over for him, writing wigged out columns in the middle of a raging high.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at sreimer@baltsun.com or @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.

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