Big Pot Problems in Colorado

I was not surprised to see this headline in the New York Times yesterday:

After 5 Months Of Sales, Colorado See the Downside of the Legal High

A few quick quotes and points from the article:

(1) “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. I’ve written about Kevin Sabet and his amazing book Reefer Sanity before. You’ll see his name in more and more articles over the next few years.

(2) The industry has generated $12.6 million in taxes and fees so far, though the revenues have not matched some early projections. I wrote about this before. Click here.

(3) “Every major institution said this would be horrible and lead to violence and blood in the streets,” said Brian Vicente, one of the authors of Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana in Colorado. “None of that’s happened. The sky did not fall.” This is both hyperbole and a lie. No one, as far as I’m aware of, predicted “blood in the streets.” What we did predict was that more kids would try marijuana, more people would get addicted to marijuana and that the revenues would not be what was projected.

(4) 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. I wrote about this before too. Click here.

(5) Even supporters of legalization such as Mr. Vicente say Colorado needs to pass stricter rules about edible marijuana. He said the state was racing up a sharp learning curve.

“Marijuana was illegal for 80 years,” Mr. Vicente said. “Now it’s legal, and everyone’s just trying to figure out how to approach these new issues.” Exactly. Let Colorado and Washington be the petri dishes. Let them see what works and doesn’t work. There is no need to pass any other marijuana laws in other states for the next three years.


Addendum (6/3/2014): More unintended consequences and policy implications: Legalized marijuana and workplace testing


Addendum #2 (6/5/2014): The New York Time’s Maureen Dowd’s bad edible marijuana experience in Colorado was detailed here.


Addendum #3 (6/6/2014): Marijuana coffee. That makes no sense. It will be sold in Washington.


Addendum #4 (6/7/2014): Marijuana for your dog. Here is a story that describes how marijuana helped a dog stop having seizures. Dogs are popular (almost as popular as babies and veterans), and so if you go against marijuana in this instance, you are also going against dogs. It’s an animal interest story planted to swing people off the fence towards the marijuana industry.


Addendum #5 (6/9/2014): Marijuana is leading to more car crashes and 12% of fatal accidents now involve pot. Colorado has seen a huge increase since 2009 (when the first medical marijuana dispensary opened in that state). We can’t really call this unintended consequences of medicalization & legalization, because a number of us have called it for years.


Addendum #6 (6/25/2014): More data about the increased number of people arrested while driving under the influence of marijuana can be found here. I have to say it again: I told you so.