States considering legalizing recreational marijuana should think again. That is the message of a federally funded agency which recently released a report on the negative effects of legal pot in Colorado.
"[Traffic] fatalities related to marijuana, it showed about a 28 percent increase [since legalization]," said Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which compiled the report.
He said it also showed hospitalizations went up about 36 percent while "marijuana-related ER" visits went up around 30 percent. "Poison control calls [had] about a 72 percent increase. And all of this is within a year's period of time," he said.
RMHIDT is a a federal grant program administered by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy that works with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to fight the trafficking of illegal drugs. For its report, "The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado, The Impact," it compiled statistics from local, state and national databases.
Gorman said what was found should make other states considering legalization reconsider. "Look at Colorado really close and say ... is that something we want to do?"
Marijuana legalization supporters like Mason Tvert, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project, say the report cherry-picks data and is misleading in parts. As an example, he cites the statistic showing an increase of 28 percent in marijuana-related traffic deaths.
"You know many of the marijuana-related accidents they point to involve people who had used marijuana weeks earlier, or weren't even at fault in the accident," he said.
The report itself notes that, "This report will cite datasets with terms such as 'marijuana-related' or 'tested positive for marijuana.' That does not necessarily prove that marijuana was the cause of the incident."
Gorman notes the report is always candid about the limitations of the data it uses, but says the overall trend the report shows is likely not what Colorado voters were hoping for when they passed an amendment to the state Constitution allowing recreational marijuana sales.
"I don't really think they thought about a whole industry growing up. I don't think they thought about the home grows in neighborhoods. If you look at the number of jurisdictions [in Colorado] who have now banned retail stores you're talking around 70 percent, so what is that telling you?"
Tvert counters that, "Colorado officials have made clear there is not remotely enough data now to make any sort of conclusion about the effect of our marijuana laws."
He said the data that is accurate, like calls to the Rocky Mountain Poison Control Center, must be put into perspective.
"We've got approximately seven to eight hundred calls to poison control each year for kids accidentally consuming their parents vitamins. Yet 140 for [kids accidentally ingesting] marijuana, and this report just really makes it sound like this is an epidemic of children that are getting hurt by this."
One effect of legalization that is undoubtedly clear is the amount of money the industry is generating.
Colorado collected nearly $70 million in marijuana-specific taxes in the fiscal year running from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015. In doing so, it became the first state in history to bring in more revenue from marijuana than alcohol, which provided a mere $42 million in taxes for the same period.
Tvert says there is no turning back. "You know Americans are fed up with marijuana prohibition. They've been lied to about marijuana their entire lives and they're not willing to take it anymore."
In addition to Colorado, recreational marijuana is now legal in Alaska, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia, and the issue may appear the ballots of up to seven other states in 2016.
The RMHIDT report provides a note of caution for those states, saying: "Citizens and policymakers may want to delay any decisions on this important issue until there is sufficient and accurate data to make an informed decision."