I first blogged about marijuana back in January 2014, when Colorado became the first state to open its doors to the commercial sale of recreational marijuana. (Since then, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon have followed suit.)
The changes in drug policy came after years of lobbying and campaigning by a group of committed activists who compared marijuana to alcohol. They also promised voters many benefits for our communities, like more efficient use of law enforcement and judicial resources; increased revenue for our schools and infrastructure; and an improvement to public health and safety.
With up to 20 more states voting on marijuana legalization in 2016, it begs the question: How is Colorado’s marijuana experiment going?
Unfortunately, not well: None of the promises have been fulfilled.
On the contrary, the legalization of marijuana in Colorado has resulted in hurt families, deaths, more children in foster care, increased crime, and even higher utility costs!
The news shocked even Focus on the Family staffers when anti-marijuana advocate, lawyer and Colorado resident, Stephanie Luck, came to speak at our campus recently.
Before I delve into the details of Stephanie’s presentation, though, I want to clarify two things.
First, there’s an important difference between legalization and decriminalization.
Often, activists garner support for a change in marijuana policy by talking in terms of decriminalization. For example, they suggest that no criminal penalties (jail, fines) should be imposed on an adult possessing a small amount of the drug.
But most of the time what people are actually voting on is the legalization of the drug, where marijuana is authorized, legally sanctioned, and “endorsed” by the state.
This move results in a commercial industry taking root in our communities. To give you an idea of the impact: there are now more legal medical and recreational pot shops in Colorado than there are Starbucks and McDonald’s – combined! No wonder Stephanie called legalized marijuana “Big Tobacco 2.0.”
Secondly, medical marijuana isn’t what you think it is.
“Medical marijuana is, for all intents and purposes, the standard form of marijuana,” Stephanie said. “It’s not medical in any sense of the word.” And yet, some doctors will write a prescription for almost any reason, enabling “patients” to have tax-free access to the drug without further medical supervision.
This is different from cannabis-based medicine, which involves extracting the beneficial chemicals from the cannabis plant and creating medical treatments that can be controlled for source, dose, purity and safety, just like any other prescription drug.
Having this background, I want to share six ways the legalization of recreational and “medical” marijuana has negatively impacted Colorado.
1. Crime rates and illegal drug trade are increasing.
Denver has seen a 12.5 percent increase in drug crime; 26 percent increase in motor vehicle theft; and a 74 percent increase in homicide in 2015. Pueblo has seen even greater increases.
Also, far from stamping out the black market for marijuana, the illegal drug trade is exploding.
Between 2010-2014, the United States Postal Service has seen a 2,033 percent increase in marijuana packages being sent out of state and out of country.
Illegal grows are popping up everywhere, from residential neighborhoods to farming communities. Drug cartel operations have even been found in the State’s National Forests. In some rural areas, armed men guarding illegal grows have blocked public roads, making it difficult for area residents to access their properties.
2. Colorado may be facilitating sex trafficking around the world.
Because marijuana is illegal at a federal level, the marijuana industry can’t use the federal banking system. To work around this challenge, Colorado’s marijuana industry has established its own banking system, which is largely unregulated.
As a result, there is concern that illegal organizations around the world may be able to use Colorado’s marijuana banking system to launder their money to facilitate the trafficking of people, weapons and harder drugs.
3. Instead of increasing revenue for schools and infrastructure, marijuana has strained Colorado’s economy and resources.
In 2014, Colorado projected that the legalization of marijuana would result in an additional $118 million in tax revenue. However, it received only $52.5 million – money that’s mostly being used to regulate the industry, so there is no net gain.
Take it from Colorado’s director of marijuana coordination, Andrew Freedman: “You do not legalize for taxation. It is a myth. You are not going to pave streets. You are not going to be able to pay teachers.”
Far from providing the state with additional funds, marijuana has caused an increased demand of public and social services. People moving into the state to take advantage of the lax drug laws often arrive without jobs, family or support networks in the state. Instead, they rely on the state to provide welfare, food stamps, food banks, and other forms of social service help. The demand has been so overwhelming that local charity groups have had to limit the services they provide because they don’t have the funds to accommodate the added need.
4. Families are paying more for utilities.
Did you know each marijuana plant needs approximately 900 gallons of water, contributing to droughts in the West? Officials have called it a “full-scale environmental disaster” because of the damage it inflicts.
Marijuana growers also consume as much power as 35,000 households. The illegal grows in our state’s neighborhoods are stealing power, in some cases even causing transformers to go up in flames.
Quite simply, our power grids weren’t designed to sustain this type of demand – and struggling families are bearing the brunt in the form of dramatically higher utility costs.
5. Children and teens are endangered.
As a child advocate and foster dad, I’m probably most moved by how marijuana harms children. For example, we’ve heard accounts from those who work in family courts and drug treatment facilities that marijuana is causing more kids to enter our foster care system due to parental neglect and exposure to the drug.
This exposure is happening in part because edible marijuana is being marketed to kids through packaging that looks like popular candies and chocolates, enticing young children to consume their family’s drug stash. And with today’s marijuana far more potent than what was available in the 1960s and 70s, it’s more deadly than ever for a child to ingest it.
Most marijuana users are between the ages of 12 and 25, and our youth-use rate is 56 percent higher than the national average. These statistics are especially sobering when you consider daily teen marijuana users are seven times more likely to attempt suicide.
6. Public safety is threatened.
Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 92 percent between 2010-2014 (while all traffic deaths increased only 8 percent).
Here’s another example of the dangers of marijuana to public safety: In just a two-year period Colorado has had at least 44 marijuana-related explosions – 12 in 2013 and 32 in 2014 – caused by people attempting to extract THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the mind-altering chemical found in the cannabis plant, in home-based labs.
As you can see, marijuana is far from harmless. It’s astonishing to learn exactly how the legalization of marijuana has hurt the people and families of Colorado – and I didn’t even include what Stephanie shared with us about the negative impact on our businesses and property values!
If you’re living in one of the states considering the legalization of medical marijuana, I ask you: please resist. Medical marijuana is just the first step towards allowing recreational use of the drug. Also, please share this blog post with your family and friends. The futures and well-being of real people – of our children! – are at stake.
For those of you living in states that have already legalized marijuana – laws can be reversed. The issue can be put on the ballot through referendum. Please consider getting involved in efforts to repeal the legalization of this dangerous drug.
I’d like to hear from you: what’s the story in your state? What have you heard about legalization efforts – or what damage have you already seen? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section.
I’m thankful to expert Stephanie Luck for allowing me to share the information she presented to our staff in this blog post. For those of you who asked about original sources, here are some research compilations you can use to look into the topics discussed here for yourself. -J.D.
- “The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact“
- “Colorado and Washington State Since Legalization”
- “A Critique of the ICSDP Report on Marijuana.”