Marijuana activist doesn't want Denver taxes going to controversial anti-pot doctor

Yesterday, members of the Denver City Council met in committee to consider the size of a tax on recreational marijuana sales, with one possibility being 5 percent, and a ceiling of 15 percent.

Even the former amount strikes marijuana activist and Amendment 64 co-author Brian Vicente as higher than strictly necessary.

But Vicente's more worried about a chunk of the revenues going to a controversial anti-pot doctor.

"It's been an interesting discussion in Denver," Vicente notes. "We were really hoping for a 3.5 percent tax; we would support that. But now, it looks like they're leaning more toward a 5 percent tax."

The difference between these amounts doesn't strike Vicente as egregious. "Although I think 3.5 percent would be fine, 5 percent would probably be reasonable.

"But our main concern," he continues, "is that funding is allocated to appropriate channels -- funding the regulatory structure, some funding for education. But really, one of our main sticking points is that we don't want the money going to Christian Thurstone and Denver Health."

For those who don't immediately recognize the name, Dr. Christian Thurstone is an addiction specialist who's long spoken out about the dangers of marijuana, particularly when it comes to young people. In a 2010 post, he raised the specter of kids getting addicted to medical marijuana, and earlier this year, he suggested that pot users searching for bigger highs might start to inject THC.

Thurstone is a major player in the anti-pot-legalization organization Project SAM. But he also was appointed by Governor John Hickenlooper to serve on the state's Amendment 64 committee.

Last month, as we reported, Denver Health presented a $2 million marijuana-education proposal to the city council's Amendment 64 committee, headed up by councilman Charlie Brown. The documents provided to Denver officials at the time are on view below, but here are descriptions of the concept's three tiers: "Evaluate," "Educate" and "Early Treatment."

The "Evaluate" portion is described like so:

Develop a comprehensive monitoring system that includes data from electronic health records, hospital and emergency department visits, admissions to addiction programs, perceived risk of marijuana use among youth, and rates of school absenteeism and drop-out. These data will be used to provide detailed and meaningful records to policymakers, community based organizations, school officials and public and personal health care providers.

This is the "Educate" offering:

Develop a targeted media and education campaign including social media (Facebook, text-messaging, Twitter, YouTube). Youth should play a major role in identifying the messages, developing the content, and providing feedback.

And this is the "Early Treatment" description:

We propose evidence-based treatment that integrates primary care, mental health care and substance treatment into Denver's high-quality school-based health clinic system. An initial program would include full-time therapists, back-up from a child psychiatrist with expertise in addictions, and a program manager. After an initial investment, a program of vigorous outreach to school-aged children can become partly or largely self-funding through appropriate billing of the students' health insurance. This implementation will have a large public health impact on reducing substance use among youth.

The documents estimate total expenses for the program, including personnel and non-personnel costs, at $2,203,274. And over a two-year period, Thurstone's "Pro Fee Revenue" is listed at $124,800.

The prospect of Denver taxpayers giving so much cash to Thurstone doesn't cheer Vicente.

Continue for more of our interview with marijuana activist Brian Vicente.  

To Vicente, paying Thurstone to study the ill-effects of marijuana "is like the voters passing a gay marriage law and then the state hiring Focus on the Family to study it." In his view, "it doesn't make any sense to hire such a transparent opponent of marijuana reform to study this issue."

Not that Vicente opposes the use of tax revenues for educational purposes.

"Evidence-based education and prevention programs are wonderful," he says -- and he's long stated that he opposes marijuana use by anyone younger than the legal (in Colorado) age of 21. "But funding a radical opponent of marijuana is not what we see as a good use of funds."

Yesterday's committee meeting was hardly the final word on taxing or anything else related to recreational marijuana sales in Denver. A public hearing and a final council vote is expected to take place on August 19.

"The discussion is still ongoing," Vicente says. "And our real interest is, if we're going to tax this, let's make sure the money is used in an appropriate fashion."

Read the aforementioned documents in their entirety here.

Denver Health Marijuana Proposal

Marijuana Tax Ordinance Discussion Draft

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Proposed $3.25 million Denver tax boost, $2 million Denver Health pot-ed program."

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