Negative Impact of Marijuana Legalisation in Colorado

.1) Here is link to today’s Denver Post article highlighting proposed budget cuts by Colorado’s Governor.  http://www.denverpost.com/2016/11/01/2018-colorado-budget-john-hickenlooper-cuts/

While many representing Colorado along with media often portray the roll out of marijuana legalization/commercialization as going  “fairly well” or not  “as bad as we thought”,  the actual budget numbers paint a very concerning picture.

The Governor is now proposing new and significant budget cuts for this upcoming legislation session in the following areas:  capital construction for our schools, health and human services,  public safety/courts, healthcare including Colorado hospitals, and education including K-12 and higher education.  Areas that have experienced and reported increased negative impacts and/or costs associated with increased marijuana availability/commercialization.

Areas mentioned where marijuana tax revenues will be spent highlight some of the negative impacts from increased marijuana availability/commercialization, and include:

“Hiring of more mental health professionals in schools and child welfare caseworkers“

$18 million program to create affordable housing for the homeless” (Denver has reported dramatic increases in student homelessness as has other areas in Colorado)

“$16 million in marijuana taxes for forthcoming initiative to control the illegal pot trade operating in the shadows of the state’s legal industry” (Attached below is recent state report highlighting growth of illegal grey and black markets in Colorado to include new criminal and cartel activities and involvement)

Colorado’s Governor Hickenlooper says the budget plan’s priority is “to minimize the pain”

Yet, Coloradans were promised that marijuana tax revenues would be a boon to our state and schools.  And sadly and most disappointedly, many of the cuts being proposed are in the precise areas that funds are now needed more than ever because of the negative impacts from marijuana legalization/commercialization.

Article also highlights the possible elimination of marijuana coordination staff/office (Andrew Freedman and his staff) . Which may potentially make it even more difficult to ensure that the special interests and powerful commercial marijuana interests guiding much of Colorado’s policy making to date along with key leaders,  may never be held accountable for the costs and or negative impacts/burdens to the public of its troublesome implementation.   Further, it may make capturing data and impacts from marijuana legalization/commercialization, even more difficult than it already has been.  Which is deeply troubling as capturing such data and reporting impacts has been something few state leaders have wanted to be held responsible for doing.  With few having the courage or wherewithall, including media,  to ask:  “Why?”  Even though marijuana has been legalized/commercialized in Colorado for years now.

2) Below is recent editorial of Pueblo Chieftain, Pueblo’s main newspaper, in support of the citizen effort to reverse decision by Pueblo City Council members opting for marijuana commercialization.  Which was an important provision in Colorado’s Constitution legalizing marijuana with approximately 70% of Colorado’s cities and

counties wisely opting out in order to better protect kids, schools and communities in their municipalities.  This is very significant as the Pueblo Chieftain, like other newspapers in Colorado including Colorado’s main newspaper, The Denver Post,  have benefited tremendously from increased advertising revenues from commercial marijuana businesses/interests.  And due to the fact the Pueblo Chieftain was initially very supportive of marijuana commercialization, and now feels differently due to negative impacts as described in their editorial, which is attached below.

3) Regarding messaging around Colorado’s Healthy Kid Survey which in 2015   “randomly” selected youth surveys to use (i.e didn’t use all surveys collected)  in its final data analysis versus national health surveys that use different and more weighted approaches that show Colorado now ranks number one for youth marijuana use ages 12 and up.  With Colorado educators as reported in both Colorado’s main newspapers (The Denver Post and Colorado Gazette) reporting that marijuana has become number one issue Colorado public schools are facing.

As Colorado’s 2015 statewide Healthy Kid Survey shows, reported marijuana use in our state varies dramatically by region for several reasons. Here is link to infographic by Colorado State Health Department.  https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/PF_Youth_HKCS_MJ-Infographic-Digital.pdf.

Please note that in areas where there has been tremendous marijuana availability/commercialization (with Denver and Pueblo being the two municipalities that have become epicenters of commercialized marijuana businesses and special interests)  youth use is very high and reaches up to 30.1% of  high schoolers reporting using once or more in last month (which prevention world defines as “regular”  use).

This is very high and far exceeds levels that led to national youth tobacco campaigns and public outcry around youth tobacco use years ago.  It’s even more concerning when one considers that the average THC levels of Colorado marijuana today far exceeds levels what health experts in the Netherland concluded in 2014 report, should be considered a hard drug.   Also, note that in 2015 Healthy Kid Survey while 91% of surveyed high schoolers reporting regular marijuana use say they are smoking it, 28% say they are dabbing it, 28% say they are eating it, and 21% say they are vaping it, which is deeply troubling as is the lowering perception of harm of our youth throughout the state (an evidence based predictor of future increased use based on what we’ve learned from studying other substances) as  highlighted in the infographic provided by Colorado’s Public Health Department.

4) Additional information.  Attached is link to recent article published in Denver Post highlighting that Colorado adults now rank as top consumers of not only marijuana, but also alcohol, cocaine, and non prescription opioids. http://www.denverpost.com/2016/05/23/colorado-first-in-drugs-survey/

Links to PBS segment covering deaths associated to Colorado’s high THC marijuana can be found in recent press release and action alert, attached below.  Here is link to pdf of October 10th presentation that can be downloaded http://smartcolorado.org/resources/ from our website and contains additional information, and a link to brief policy brief of what we at Smart Colorado have learned from Colorado’s marijuana commercialization experiment  smartcolorado.org/lessons-learned.  Of course, the recent 60 minute news segment was powerful and gave only small a window into the heart wrenching impacts marijuana commercialization is having on Pueblo citizens.  I have also included recent report presented to state legislators from Pueblo’s largest human service agency, Posada, regarding impacts.

http://www.chieftain.com/mobile/msearch/5258397-123/marijuana-pueblo-retail-community

EDITORIAL

Retail marijuana: Yes or no?

CHIEFTAIN EDITORIAL

Published: October 29, 2016; Last modified: October 29, 2016 04:16PM

The legalization of retail marijuana stores two years ago has had profound impacts on the city and county of Pueblo. Some good. Some bad.

Now, the time has come for Pueblo voters to decide whether the benefits outweigh the negatives.

For months, The Pueblo Chieftain has been intensely studying this issue, both with special and ongoing news reporting, and also with private editorial board discussions with those for and against retail marijuana stores and grow operations.   It is an understatement to say the issue is complicated. So bear with us as we try today to discuss the essential concerns.

On the positive side, retail marijuana in Pueblo County — not in the city, where a moratorium on retail sales has been in place since legalization in 2014 — has meant jobs. The figure of 1,300 new jobs has been tossed about, but frankly, we’ve been unable to pin down the exact number.

The jobs range from cultivation workers to retail management. Some of the jobs pay fairly well, but others pay relatively low wages. There are many part-time workers in the field.

Tax revenues have benefited the county, with the total for 2016 expected to be somewhere in the $2.5 million range. Those proceeds have been used for a variety of purposes such as road paving in Pueblo West and scholarships for local students. And the revenues have risen in each of the years retail marijuana has been sold here.

There have been secondary benefits such as to the construction industry, which has remodeled buildings and built new stores, greenhouses and other structures. A number of vacant warehouse-type buildings have been purchased and put to use by marijuana retailers and related businesses.

That all adds up to a significant impact in terms of primary and secondary jobs, and increased revenue for local county government.

The City Council, on the other hand, put a moratorium on retail stores, but is asking voters this year to approve Ballot Question 2B to allow retail operations within the city limits.

If that were to pass, there is no doubt that the city would see benefits similar to what the county has experienced.  There also are the arguments that center around health, with proponents praising marijuana for helping treat all sorts of conditions, perhaps most visibly post-traumatic stress disorder, especially among military veterans.

Opponents argue that more testing is needed before such claims can be verified, and they point to medical studies that clearly establish the negative effects of marijuana on adolescents and young adults as their brains still are developing. They say it’s indisputable that marijuana impedes brain development.

The arguments over health claims cannot be resolved here, or anywhere for that matter. Passion runs high on both sides and there are conflicting test results.  Besides, we feel the time to make those arguments should have been in 2014.

No, we feel we must put the focus today on the benefits and negatives to the community, not the individuals. Sure, the latter is a valid debate topic, but for the sake of today’s conversation, let’s set that one aside for a different time.  So far, we’ve discussed the benefits, and there is no doubt that they are significant.

The negative impacts likewise are significant.

Local experts in law enforcement and nonprofits, particularly those who work with the homeless such as Posada, estimate that some 2,500 additional homeless people — added to an estimated 1,700 homeless here before retail marijuana was legalized — have come to Pueblo to buy and use marijuana. Maybe they came here with a dream to work in the industry, but that hasn’t materialized for most of them.

You see them everywhere, young people on street corners with their backpacks and their dogs, holding signs asking people for money. “Need money for gas,” “Need money for food” the signs read, but the reality is that they want money so they can go into a retail marijuana store, buy product and get stoned.  It is almost impossible to go into a grocery store or big box store parking lot and not be confronted by these individuals. And many are aggressive.

Where do they live? In tents along the Fountain Creek and Arkansas River, in cars parked on the edges of big parking lots, camping out wherever they can find shelter.  Emergency rooms at our local hospitals are beset by these individuals. Doctors and staff tell of heartbreaking stories of young families with malnourished children who are putting those youths through hell so the parents can smoke marijuana.

Ominously, doctors also tell about other individuals they see in the ERs, people who suffer from brain disorders such as schizophrenia who have stopped taking their medications and have come to Pueblo for marijuana. Never mind that marijuana doesn’t successfully treat schizophrenia, a potentially dangerous disorder if, for example, it manifests itself as paranoid schizophrenia. No, these ill people have come to Pueblo for marijuana, thinking incorrectly that they can substitute their pharmaceuticals for pot, and our local ERs and their staffs have to deal with this every day.

These homeless who have come into our community have brought nothing but trouble with them. Yet our community is straining to provide them resources, resources that had been dedicated to Puebloans in need.  But of all of the negative impacts on our community, the worst is the impact of image.  One county commissioner predicted early on — and astoundingly, he thought this was a good thing — that Pueblo is on the way to becoming the “Napa Valley of marijuana.”  That may be the case if the retail industry — especially grow operations — continues to expand at the exponential rate we’ve seen since 2014.

However, we think it’s a negative for our community to be regarded as a center for a drug culture. There’s no doubt, local economic development people say, that our community already is known nationwide for marijuana. And that means, they continue, that many businesses considering relocating to Pueblo or opening a new business here want no part of a community that worships marijuana.

Likewise, existing businesses have struggled to hire employees who can pass drug tests. And those who are required by law to maintain a drug-free work environment have struggled to meet that standard because of drug or alcohol use. Business leaders note

they have seen a dramatic worsening of these issues since recreational marijuana was legalized in 2014.

There have been crime issues. Sophisticated drug operations based in Florida, with Cuban ties, have set up marijuana grow operations, most notably in Pueblo West. And there has been an increase in thefts since marijuana has been available in stores, with opponents of marijuana saying the explanation for the increase is simple: Users, especially those not working and homeless, need money for marijuana.

A group of citizens calling themselves Citizens for a Healthy Pueblo circulated petitions and have placed two issues on this fall’s election ballot. Issues 300 and 200 would ban retail marijuana establishments in the city and county, respectively, and existing stores would have until Oct. 31, 2017, to close.  The group acknowledges that there have been financial benefits and some jobs created. But they argue that Pueblo has made a deal with the devil and they ask a simple question, “Is this really what we want, for Pueblo to be synonymous with marijuana?”

We have the same concern. Has Pueblo sold its soul for a few million dollars in revenue and jobs, the majority of which are relatively low-paying? Do we want our warehouses full of marijuana grows and/or related products?  Do we want to be hassled by someone on every major street corner, or when we go to restaurants and go shopping? Do we want our community overrun by outsiders who offer us nothing except grief and who deplete the resources of our nonprofits, which struggle just to meet Puebloans’ many needs?

In short, while some benefits are real, the costs have been too high.  It’s time to say we have tried this social experiment, tried allowing retail marijuana stores in Pueblo, and we don’t want it anymore.

We urge you to vote yes on County Ballot Question 200 and City Ballot Question 300, and vote no on City Ballot Question 2B (which would allow retail stores within the city limits, as there are none currently).

We know this won’t get rid of marijuana in Pueblo, as medical marijuana was approved years ago by state voters. However, the process to get a medical marijuana card has become significantly more difficult in recent years, and we encourage the state Legislature to make it even tougher.

And while lawmakers are at it, raise the age to 21 from 18 for those eligible for a medical marijuana card. Also, eliminate the entire caregivers system. If marijuana is really a medication, then grow it in a controlled, government-regulated and government-tested facility, with complete product standards — as opposed to being grown in someone’s garage.

The notion of a person growing a drug for another is ludicrous. We demand that the Legislature put an end to this nonsense.

Those who truly need marijuana will still be able to get it. And, we realize, those who want it for recreational use can drive elsewhere in the state to purchase it.

But we are convinced that this is not the image of Pueblo that our community wants to project. We are better than this.   We made a mistake in even going this far, but frankly, that was in large part thanks to our county commissioners, who shoved retail marijuana operations down the throats of communities such as Pueblo West and the St. Charles Mesa, where there was and is significant opposition.  Then the commissioners set up a buffer, a bogus marijuana licensing board made up of the usual suspects to rubber-stamp applications and protect the commissioners from those objecting.

Very well. We have the opportunity now to admit our mistake.

Vote yes on 200 and 300; and no on City Ballot Question 2B.

Source:  : Diane Carlson <dianesmartcolorado.org> Sent: Wed, Nov 2, 2016 3:27 pm Subject: Information from CO for states considering marijuana ballot initiatives

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