Pubdate: Wed, 01 Jun 2016
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Los Angeles Times
Author: David Kelly


Richard Kirk Is Charged With Murder, but a Lawsuit Contends That 
Edible Marijuana Made Him Do It.

DENVER - Kristine Kirk's last moments were a harrowing collision of 
terror and confusion.

Her husband, Richard, had burst through the door ranting about the 
end of the world. He began climbing in and out of a first-floor 
window, lying on the bedroom floor and asking for someone to kill 
him. Then he retrieved a pistol from his safe.

"He's taking the gun out, sir," Kristine, 44, told a Denver 911 
dispatcher. "I don't know where to go.... Richard, please stop ... 
please stop ... please stop."

With her three young children cowering nearby, a single shot rang 
out, killing her instantly. Richard Kirk, 49, was arrested and 
charged with first-degree murder.

But now another potential culprit has arisen.

Kirk's children have filed the nation's first wrongful-death lawsuit 
against a recreational marijuana company, claiming their father ate a 
pot-laced Karma Kandy Orange Ginger, a Tootsie-Roll-like chew, that 
triggered the April 14, 2014, shooting.

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 

"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."

Even dog-treat makers, the lawsuit says, include ingredient lists, 
recommended amounts and warnings.

The lawsuit is indicative of a maturing industry, experts said. Pot 
companies are now seen as big enough to sue. Earlier this year, the 
weed business was shaken by another first, a product liability suit 
aimed at a cannabis grower for using a pesticide that allegedly 
emitted hazardous chemicals when burned. The company denied the allegations.

"This is all a part of marijuana moving out of the shadows," said Sam 
Kamin, a professor at the University of Denver who specializes in 
marijuana law and policy. "It's growing pains. When you are a street 
drug dealer you don't have to worry about product liability or paying 
taxes, but when you have a product brand and consumers it's very different."

He said the lawsuit is a long shot.

"There is a lot of harm caused by all kinds of products, and we don't 
often hold the manufacturers responsible for unanticipated hazards," 
he said. "There are so many incidents of people getting drunk and 
engaging in violent conduct, and we don't hold the alcohol 
manufacturers responsible."

Colorado's edible pot market makes up about 45% of the state's 
marijuana industry and has often outpaced efforts to regulate it. 
Eating marijuana produces a slow-acting, full-body buzz rather than 
the more familiar rush that comes from smoking it. And while the 
effects of smoking pot wear off in an hour or two, the high from 
edibles can last up to eight hours. Excessive doses can cause 
hallucinations and serious anxiety.

In 2014, a Wyoming college student ate a marijuana cookie containing 
six times the recommended dosage of THC, the active ingredient in 
pot, and jumped to his death from a hotel balcony in Denver. New York 
Times columnist Maureen Dowd ate a pot-laced candy bar that "looked 
so innocent like the Sky Bars I used to love as a kid." Later that 
night, she was panting and curled up inside a hotel in Denver 
"convinced that I had died and no one was telling me."

To help address the problem of overdoses, Colorado last year changed 
the way edibles are packaged. They must now be sold individually or 
in increments of 10 milligrams of THC or less to help consumers 
regulate how much they are using. The warning labels are more 
explicit, noting that edibles may require an hour or more to take effect.

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.

The suit was filed on behalf of the children, now 9, 13 and 15, by 
Kristine's parents and sister, who are the legal guardians of the boys.

Sean McAllister, a Denver-based marijuana business attorney who 
co-wrote Amendment 64, which legalized recreational pot in Colorado, 
represents Gaia's Garden and says the lawsuit has no merit.

"This company was complying with all state labeling requirements at 
the time that say marijuana can have adverse health effects, so the 
proposition that someone didn't know marijuana could impair them is 
preposterous and baseless," he said. "At the end of the day, we will 
prevail in this lawsuit because marijuana is not to blame for this 
woman's death. Mr. Kirk is to blame for this woman's death."

He likened the case to skiing, getting hurt, and suing the ski 
industry because the run was too hard.

"Our position is that marijuana doesn't cause violence; the person 
with the mental illness caused the violence," McAllister said. "His 
own mental illness and decisions he made are to blame."

Tiffany Goldman, chief operating officer for Nutritional Elements, 
declined to comment.

The lawyers who filed the suit, David Olivas and Greg Gold, released 
a statement saying they hoped the lawsuit sparked meaningful change 
in the industry and "gets these kids a little justice for being 
victimized by the rush to profit at the expense of safety."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom