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June 2, 2014

"After 5 Months of Sales, Colorado Sees the Downside of a Legal High"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy recent article appearing in the New York Times.  As the headline suggests, the article documents glass-half-empty data and perspectives on Colorado's on-going experiment with marijuana legalization.  Here are excerpts:

Five months after Colorado became the first state to allow recreational marijuana sales, the battle over legalization is still raging. Law enforcement officers in Colorado and neighboring states, emergency room doctors and legalization opponents increasingly are highlighting a series of recent problems as cautionary lessons for other states flirting with loosening marijuana laws.

There is the Denver man who, hours after buying a package of marijuana-infused Karma Kandy from one of Colorado’s new recreational marijuana shops, began raving about the end of the world and then pulled a handgun from the family safe and killed his wife, the authorities say.  Some hospital officials say they are treating growing numbers of children and adults sickened by potent doses of edible marijuana.  Sheriffs in neighboring states complain about stoned drivers streaming out of Colorado and through their towns.

“I think, by any measure, the experience of Colorado has not been a good one unless you’re in the marijuana business,” said Kevin A. Sabet, executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization.  “We’ve seen lives damaged. We’ve seen deaths directly attributed to marijuana legalization. We’ve seen marijuana slipping through Colorado’s borders. We’ve seen marijuana getting into the hands of kids.”

Despite such anecdotes, there is scant hard data.  Because of the lag in reporting many health statistics, it may take years to know legal marijuana’s effect — if any — on teenage drug use, school expulsions or the number of fatal car crashes. It was only in January, for example, that the Colorado State Patrol began tracking the number of people pulled over for driving while stoned. Since then, marijuana-impaired drivers have made up about 1.5 percent of all citations for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Proponents of legalization argue that the critics s are cherry-picking anecdotes to tarnish a young industry that has been flourishing under intense scrutiny.  The vast majority of the state’s medical and recreational marijuana stores are living up to stringent state rules, they say.  The stores have sold marijuana to hundreds of thousands of customers without incident.  The industry has generated $12.6 million in taxes and fees so far, though the revenues have not matched some early projections.

Marijuana supporters note that violent crimes in Denver — where the bulk of Colorado’s pot retailers are — are down so far this year. The number of robberies from January through April fell by 4.8 percent from the same time in 2013, and assaults were down by 3.7 percent. Over all, crime in Denver is down by about 10 percent, though it is impossible to say whether changes to marijuana laws played any role in that decline....

The argument is being waged with fervor because both sides say Colorado’s successes and failures with regulating marijuana will shape perceptions of legalization for voters considering similar measures in other states and for leery federal law enforcement officials.  After the 2012 legalization votes in Colorado and Washington State — where recreational sales are expected to begin this summer — Justice Department officials gave the states a cautious green light. But they warned that they might intervene if marijuana ended up fueling violence or drug trafficking, or flowing across state lines or into the hands of children.

Marijuana opponents like Thomas J. Gorman of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which helps law enforcement, say Colorado is already falling short of those standards.  “In any other state if they were making as much money and growing as much dope, they’d be taken out by the feds,” Mr. Gorman said.

Few agree on how much legally purchased marijuana is being secreted out of Colorado.  Michele Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, told a Senate panel in April that officials in Kansas had tallied a 61 percent increase in Michele Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, told a Senate panel in April that officials in Kansas had tallied a 61 percent increase inseizures of marijuana that could be traced to Colorado. But according to the Kansas Highway Patrol, total marijuana seizures fell to 1,090 pounds from 2,790 pounds during the first four months of the year, a 61 percent decline.

Some sheriffs and police chiefs along Colorado’s borders say they have noticed little change. But in Colby, Kan., which sits along an interstate highway running west to Colorado, Police Chief Ron Alexander said charges for sale, distribution or possession related to marijuana were rising fast.  This year, he tallied 20 such cases through May 23. Two years ago, there were six during that same time period.  Sheriff Adam Hayward of Deuel County, Neb., said he was locking up more people for marijuana-related offenses. “It’s kind of a free-for-all,” he said. “The state or the federal government needs to step up and do something.”...

Police and fire officials across the state have been contending with a sharp rise in home explosions, as people use flammable butane to make hashish oil.. And despite a galaxy of legal, regulated marijuana stores across the state, prosecutors say a dangerous illicit market persists....

Many of Colorado’s starkest problems with legal marijuana stem from pot-infused cookies, chocolates and other surprisingly potent edible treats that are especially popular with tourists and casual marijuana users. On Colorado’s northern plains, for example, a fourth grader showed up on the playground one day in April and sold some of his grandmother’s marijuana to three classmates.  The next day, one of those students returned the favor by bringing in a marijuana edible he had swiped from his own grandmother.  “This was kind of an unintended consequence of Colorado’s new law,” said John Gates, the district’s director of school safety and security. “For crying out loud, secure your weed. If you can legally possess it, that’s fine. But it has no place in an elementary school.”

So far this year, nine children have ended up at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora after consuming marijuana, six of whom got critically sick.  In all of 2013, the hospital treated only eight such cases.

Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform

June 2, 2014 at 02:16 PM | Permalink


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The Supremacy has suggested many times that 10% of tax revenue get spent on academic studies of the effect of legalization along several dimensions, economic, social, psychological, public safety and health.

That being said, It is a disgrace that the above report is missing a basic denominator, and again the layer forces lined against freedom are demanding perfection, when that are the worst performers of all, and in utter failure across the board, allowing 20 million Index felonies, and having an appalling rate of false confessions, convictions and executions (perhaps).

Were it a high school term paper I would return it to the student with a note saying, "Please redo, since I do not want to flunk this assignment for its very elementary flaws. See me for help." It is as if the writer never attended high school, is an idiot or a lawyer.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 2, 2014 8:55:41 PM

Very interesting turn of events on the marijuana "blast". Hope we learn that sacrificing decency isn't worth it.

Posted by: H-Town Legal | Jun 3, 2014 4:06:56 AM

Who would have ever thought that recreational marijuana use could get so out of hand? My god a man has killed his family and people are exploding their homes. Is this serious?

Posted by: Attorney LeGrande | Jun 3, 2014 4:09:10 AM

I think the key sentence in this story is: "Despite such anecdotes, there is scant hard data." In other words -- we are going to write a sensationalist, click-bait, share-worthy story -- but we really do not know the truth of the matter. Without data, you cannot judge the "success" or "failure" of what Colorado is doing -- and, typically, those terms are tossed around without any definition of what constitutes success or failure. I realize this is a stretch in the so-called "war" on drugs, but can we try to be rational adults about this?

Posted by: DHMCarver | Jun 3, 2014 9:50:13 AM

I can provide 100 anecdotes about the catastrophic effects of alcohol for every anecdote about marijuana.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 3, 2014 11:35:37 PM

Of course there are going to be issues, just like there are with alcohol, but this type of sensationalized journalism makes it sound as if weed is more dangerous than alcohol and pharmaceuticals. This is absolutely false. The fact that the man that killed his wife was on prescription meds was brushed aside. It is never stated how long he'd been living with pain and how much sleep he lost. Whole story people!!!

Remember the "I didn't inhale" debacle...which led to the political attitude that if you went to college in the 60's or 70's and hadn't tried it once you might be way out of touch unless you were closely tied to a religion. In the past 40 years pretty much everyone has had the opportunity to try it, use it, and abuse it. People have been driving stoned and being ticketed for driving stoned for decades, at least the article states that they've never tracked it until pot became legal. And OF COURSE there's going to be an increase in pot related cases in neighboring states. We saw the same thing in states that had younger drinking ages.

My issue w/ medical and recreational marijuana is that different strains have different components that affect users in different ways. Many of the illnesses that people use marijuana for come from components in the plant BESIDES the THC - which is the psychotropic component. Just like herbal remedies, just because it is still in plant form doesn't mean it shouldn't be taken "as prescribed". But medical marijuana doesn't come w/ dosage instructions. I know someone who uses it to treat her mania, but she can't use it before noon or she experiences adverse reactions. St. John's Wort can be used as an anti-depressant for some people - others have experienced adverse affects.

And herbal remedies, like weed, react with other medications and substances as well. (FYI, before you buy any herbal remedies you should check with the pharmacist to see if they react to any other medications you may be taking).

I think the growers need to be regulated more so they (and the consumers) know exactly what components are in the strains they are selling (not just the level of THC) and how the different components affect the body (the whole body, not just the brain). Some dispensaries have websites that list the types of weed and tells what type of high it will give you (mellow, help you sleep, energized high, good for depression, good for pain, good for ...) I call BS on this too. Different people react differently to any substance. I knew a guy who got really hyper whenever he smoked pot and would melt into the couch when he did cocaine. There are different forms of antibiotics because people have different body chemistries and constitutions.

Some people can have just one glass of wine, others can't. Some people are allergic to the sulfates in beer and wine and while they may or may not be alcoholics they can go into anaphylactic shock immediately after ingesting.

I really didn't like the sensationalized slant in this article because it detracts from REAL issues that need to be addressed... not this shit we've always been dealing with and will deal with whether or not it is legal.

Posted by: Lauri | Jun 4, 2014 1:39:30 AM

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