Aug 2, 2013 7:32 PM by Andy Koen

New report casts harsh light on legal marijuana

DENVER - A new report casts a harsh light on the social costs of legalized marijuana in our state. The paper is titled the Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado and was written by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA.)

Among the more troubling findings of the 66 page report is the doubling of fatal traffic accidents involving a driver who tested positive for marijuana use. There were 27 such accidents in 2006, and in 2011 there were 58.

Marijuana use by teenagers also grew from an average of 7.44 percent to 10.72 percent, and drug related school expulsions climbed from 3,988 to 5,279.

The number of calls to poison control for infants and toddlers up to age 5 who ingested marijuana grew from an average of 4 per from 2006-2008 to an average 12 per year for the years 2009-2012.

"These are the facts, this is the data," said Tom Gorman, Director of the Rocky Mountain HIDTA. "They can make up their own mind but at least be informed."

The group is made up of federal, state and local law enforcement enforcers and has spoken out against marijuana legalization in the past. However, Gorman insists the paper is unbiased.

"We were very careful, no editorial comments, no opinion," Gorman said. "It's just, here's the facts and let the people look at the facts and they'll decide for themselves."

Supporters of legal marijuana disagree. Mark Slaugh owns the iComply Cannabis and Hemp Regulatory Affairs Company in Colorado Springs and was the Southern Colorado Regional Coordinator for Amendment 64.

"They of course are putting out a lot of padded statistics," Slaugh said of the report. "We've seen these numbers come back in the legislators before with the number of people being pulled over, and we've actually seen the police targeting them, sitting outside of dispensaries waiting for people just to again, increase those numbers."

Slaugh also takes issue with the suggestion that black market marijuana grown in Colorado and seized in other states is coming from legitimate businesses.

The report tracks the seizure of 7,008 pounds of Colorado marijuana in 2012 by law enforcement agencies in other states. It identifies Denver, Boulder and El Paso County as the top three counties named in those drug interdiction arrests.

Slaugh suggests all of that marijuana is being grown by criminal organizations.

"The criminals that are growing this here in Colorado are now 2,000 miles closer to the east coast than California," Slaugh said. "So, you're starting to see a lot more marijuana come out of Colorado on the black market which is why it's very important we limit how much people can buy from a regulated system."

However, the report also cites the example of the Silver Lizard marijuana dispensary in Denver that was shut down last August for selling the drug out the back door. In a 59-count indictment, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said the dispensary owners distributed their marijuana to Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Gorman hopes the information detailed in the report will help other states currently debating marijuana legalization.

"We don't have to guess anymore, we don't look at people putting spins on data and stuff, we'll have actual data, and that's what we're trying to do."

RMHIDTA will publish similar periodic reports in the future. Gorman said he would also like to commission an in-depth study to establish harder to track data such as the tax benefit of legal marijuana as compared to the regulatory and societal costs.

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