Valerie Vande Panne, The Daily Beast

According to the headlines, Levi Thamba Pongi, 19, a native of the Republic of Congo, ate a marijuana cookie, began behaving erratically, and fell off a hotel balcony in Denver.


The coroner says the death was caused by the injuries he incurred from the fall. The medical report lists marijuana intoxication as a contributing factor, because it was found in his blood at an intoxicating level.

Let’s pause for a moment. First, medical science has proven time and time again that it is impossible to die from a marijuana overdose. It just does not happen. And it didn’t happen this time.

Second, (though this does not seem to be the case here) marijuana stays in your system for about a month—meaning it’ll show up in drug tests even when you’re not high, weeks after you consumed it.

Finally, says Mason Tvert, Director of Communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, “This is obviously a unique situation, since we’ve never heard anything like it in history. It’s a tragic case and hopefully will not be politicized. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that we need to make sure people know what kind of products they are getting and what’s in them.”

Tvert says there are always cases of people using alcohol and other substances and suffering from unintentional injuries. The discussion needs to be, asserts Tvert, “about how not to put your self or others in danger.”

Tvert also points out that there has never been anyone who had no underlying mental health problem who just went crazy from smoking one joint. “When this becomes a discussion of marijuana, it misses the lesson that needs to be learned,” he says. “Right now we know that for some people with certain mental health conditions, [marijuana] can exacerbate them, and some people with certain mental health conditions benefit from it.”

There should be a good, reliable source of information for the public on this—yet there isn’t, unless, says Tvert, you do your own combing of conditions and cannabis research. “That is the discussion that this should inspire,” he says. “Why are the folks that want to help and prevent marijuana from causing problems, why aren’t they focused on preventing real problems rather than the problems that they make up? The Feds spend a lot of money spreading information about marijuana that is useless.”

Kris Hermes, spokesperson of Americans for Safe Access agrees. “I would rest that responsibility [for reliable public information] on the shoulders of the federal government, which has been the biggest impediment to marijuana research. We need to be better about research, and the hypocritical issue here is that the Obama administration is saying we could use more research. They have the tools to do that, and they could do that over night, if it wanted to, and it not only doesn’t, but it points its finger at Congress, as if Congress is the only body able to [ease restrictions in order to facilitate marijuana research].”

The problems here, of course, are many. Questions about dosage, manufacturing practices, contamination, and Levi’s knowledge have not been answered, or perhaps even asked. The federal government refuses to allow the type of research that would result in knowing about different strains of cannabis, their strength, and their impacts on different people with different biological make-up and mental health conditions.

Even though reports say Levi did not have any known mental health conditions, we are all different, and every strain of cannabis has a different combination of over 80 cannabinoids—and of course, those combos haven’t been researched either. As Dr. Sanjay Gupta pointed out in his recent WEED 2 special, we are putting patients at risk by forcing them to experiment with strain and dosage.

Worse, the U.S. government’s continued insistence on prohibition and their zealous denial of marijuana’s therapeutic value continue to put consumers at risk. There are no regulations on the creation of hash oils, like BHO —and much of what’s being made, especially in non-medical marijuana states, can be heavily contaminated with mold, pesticides, and solvents. And it’s being used in cannabis baked goods.

Marijuana didn’t kill Levi. He died from a culture of gross, proud ignorance, fostered by a ridiculous prohibition that makes us all less safe.

And so, thanks to the federal government’s archaic attachment to and policy of bullying its citizens into believing it knows best, ignorance trumps science. That has to stop if we are to get out of the dark ages.