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Exchange student falls to death in Denver after eating marijuana cookie

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - An African exchange student plummeted to his death from a hotel balcony after eating a marijuana-infused cookie, in the first reported pot-related death in the city since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, the Denver coroner's office said on Wednesday.

Levi Thamba Pongi, 19, died on March 11 from injuries related to the fall and marijuana intoxication is listed as "a significant condition" that contributed to the accident, said Michelle Weiss-Samaras, spokeswoman for the Denver medical examiner's office.

Possession and use by adults of small amounts of recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado. The state's first retail pot shops opened in January.

Pongi, from the Republic of Congo, attended Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming. He went on a spring break in Denver with three other exchange students from the school to try marijuana, Weiss-Samaras said.

All four of them tried cookies containing marijuana, she said. One girl in the group became ill after one bite, but when Pongi ate one of the cookies he "went off the wall" and started running around the hotel room, Weiss-Samaras said.

"His friends were terrified, and they did try to calm him down," she said, but he leapt from the balcony.

The autopsy showed that Pongi had a 7.2-nanogram-per-milliter level of THC, the psychoactive property in marijuana, and no other drugs or alcohol in his system, Weiss-Samaras said. Under Colorado law, a person is considered impaired at a 5-nanogram threshold of THC.

Weiss-Samaras said Pongi was not suicidal, and since his death did not involve other intoxicating substances or an event such as an automobile accident, the medical examiner determined that his death was linked to marijuana consumption.

"We just don't know how any one person will react," when consuming intoxicants, she said, adding that Pongi's case was the first cannabis-related death in Denver since recreational marijuana was legalized.

Pongi, an engineering student, enrolled at the two-year community college 400 miles north of Denver in January, said Emelee Volden, the school's intercultural program manager.

"We have 80 international students and it's a very close-knit community. It's been a very traumatic thing for them as well as to our entire student body," she said.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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