Lawmakers to Arizona Marijuana Haters: Stop Lying About Colorado Pot

Update: Last month, we highlighted complaints about an Arizona campaign commercial opposing Proposition 205, a measure that would legalize limited recreational marijuana sales in that state; see our coverage below. The spot features two prominent former Colorado officials, ex-governor Bill Owens and onetime Denver mayor Wellington Webb, delivering claims that vacillate between misleading and completely untrue according to Colorado-based cannabis reformer and Proposition 205 advocate Mason Tvert.

Now, three Colorado officials currently in office — Senator Pat Steadman and representatives Jonathan Singer and Millie Hamner — are echoing Tvert's complaints in a letter that calls on Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, the organization behind the commercial, to stop airing the falsehoods immediately.

Meanwhile, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey has written a letter to No on 64 Campaign and SAM Action, organizations fighting against a similar recreational-marijuana-legalization measure up for vote in Colorado; its name, Proposition 64, recalls Colorado's Amendment 64, passed in 2012. In the missive, Morrissey makes Colorado's cannabis experience seem like a descent into Reefer Madness hell.

The text from the Steadman-Singer-Hamner letter to ARDP leaders Seth Leibsohn and Sheila Polk is on view below in its entirety, along with three supporting State of Colorado documents that back up their assertions and the Morrissey missive. But an excerpt reads: "We respectfully request that you stop airing or otherwise publishing campaign ads that contradict these facts. We also trust they will be reflected in any of your future communications to Arizona voters regarding Colorado’s experience with regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use."

As noted below, the ad in question includes figures from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federally funded organization, about an alleged increase in traffic accidents related to marijuana and more. But the data is admittedly unscientific and has been repeatedly characterized by opponents as biased; the RMHIDTA openly opposes greater access to cannabis.

In addition, the spot showcases images of marijuana edibles that have never been legally sold in Colorado and violate state law by way of hyping the danger of such products for children. Later, ex-mayor Webb suggests that tax revenues from marijuana sales have mainly gone to regulation and maintains that Denver received no money for school construction — a true statement, but only because the city hasn't requested any to date.

Morrissey, for his part, cites a rising homicide rate in Colorado, as well as a higher number of motor-vehicle thefts and sexual assault since Amendment 64 was implemented. But he presents no information linking any of these crimes to marijuana legalization. Instead, he implies a causal relationship without proving one.

Such efforts at defeating the California and Arizona proposals may be in vain. California's Proposition 64 has been ahead in polls for most of the year, with a survey from last month registering 55 percent approval. The race in Arizona is considerably tighter but trending upward; the most recent Proposition 205 poll shows it favored by 50.4 percent of those questioned, with 41.6 percent against and 8 percent undecided.

Here are the two letters, followed by the supporting documents and our previous coverage, replete with the aforementioned Arizona commercial.

Steadman-Singer-Hamner letter to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy

Dear Mr. Leibsohn and Ms. Polk:

It has been brought to our attention that your committee has produced and aired television ads that convey inaccurate and misleading statements about Colorado’s experience with regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use.

Specifically, your ad titled “Empty Promises” features a former Colorado local school official saying, “We were promised millions of new revenues for our schools, but they were empty words.” It also features a Colorado school principal saying, “Politicians spent more money on regulation and bureaucracy than in the classroom.” Similarly, in your ad titled “Mistake,” former Denver mayor Wellington Webb says, “We were promised new money for education. Instead, that money is going to regulation and the pot industry.”

The proponents of the initiative you are opposing and members of the Arizona media have raised questions about the validity of these claims. We have also heard from Colorado residents who read or saw stories about these ads in our local media outlets and were confused by the claims that they make.
As members of the Colorado Legislature who played intimate roles in the budgeting and appropriation of marijuana tax revenues, we feel it is our duty to set the record straight so that voters in both states have accurate information about this subject.

We can say with certainty that the claims about Colorado marijuana tax revenues featured in your committee’s ads range from highly misleading to wholly inaccurate. As you can see in the attached issue brief provided by Colorado Legislative Council staff and fact sheet produced by the Colorado Department of Education:

Of the approximately $220.8 million in total marijuana tax revenue distributions made in FY 2015-16 and FY 2016-17, more than $138.3 million was distributed to the Colorado Department of Education to benefit Colorado schools. This far exceeds the amount that was distributed for the purposes of regulating marijuana, which included $15.8 to the Department of Revenue, $2.4 million to the Department of Agriculture, $2.8 million to the Department of Law, and less than $500,000 to the Governor’s Office of Marijuana Coordination.

Of those funds, $114.9 million was distributed to the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) public school construction program. When Colorado voters adopted Amendment 64, they were promised a tax on wholesale marijuana transfers would raise $40 million per year for the BEST program. That tax actually raised more than $40 million in the last fiscal year, resulting in $40 million for the BEST program in FY 2016-17, plus an additional $5.7 million for Colorado’s Public School Fund.
In addition to the funds raised for the BEST program and the Public School Fund, more than $5.5 million was used to increase the presence of health professionals in our schools, and more than $4.3 million was used for health-related programs in schools. In addition, $2.9 million was used for drop-out prevention programs, and $2.9 million was used for school bullying prevention and education.

It is also worth noting that more than $1.5 million in marijuana tax funds were distributed to the Department of Public Health and Environment to conduct the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which is the most comprehensive survey of our state’s middle and high school students. As you can see in the attached fact sheet from that department, the survey’s findings contradict the claim that “marijuana use among our students soared,” which is made in your ad titled “Empty Promises.” Rates of teen use have actually remained relatively unchanged since 2009 and are in line with the national average. In fact, they were slightly lower last year than they were prior to legalization.

We respectfully request that you stop airing or otherwise publishing campaign ads that contradict these facts. We also trust they will be reflected in any of your future communications to Arizona voters regarding Colorado’s experience with regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use.


Rep. Jonathan Singer
Member, Colorado House Appropriations Committee

Rep. Millie Hamner
Chair, Colorado Joint Budget Committee
Vice Chair, Colorado House Appropriations Committee

Sen. Pat Steadman
Member, Colorado Joint Budget Committee
Member, Colorado Senate Appropriations Committee

Mitch Morrissey letter in opposition to Proposition 64

October 12, 2016

No on 64 Campaign and SAM Action

California voters are being told that they will see the crime rate go down if they vote to legalize marijuana commercially; this has not been the case in the State of Colorado or the City of Denver. Since the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado in 2013 traffic related marijuana deaths have increased 48 percent, marijuana related emergency room visits have increased 49 percent and marijuana related calls to the poison center have increased 100 percent. According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations in 2015 statewide homicides in Colorado rose 14.7 percent over the previous year. Pueblo, Colorado had the highest homicide rate in the state with 11.1 killings per 100,000 residents. Aurora, Colorado's homicide rate more than doubled from 2014. Additionally more places in Colorado were robbed and more thefts occurred, specially cars, as 193,155 motor vehicles were reported stolen, up 27.7 percent in 2015 from the previous year. In 2015, sexual assaults rose 10 percent in Colorado with Denver, Aurora, Lakewood, Westminster and Pueblo all reporting higher numbers as well.

In the City of Denver since the legalization of recreational marijuana the number of crimes in Denver has grown by about 44 percent according to annual figures the city reported to the National Incident Based Reporting System. In 2015 in Denver alone crime rose in every neighborhood in the city. The murder rate hit a decade high, 1,059 more cars were broken into, there were 903 more auto thefts, 321 more aggravated assaults and 231 more homes were broken into compared to 2014.

California voters are also being told that legalizing recreational marijuana will free up law enforcement to work on other criminal activities. Again that has not been the case in Denver. Besides the overall increases in crime we have experience [sic], the Denver Police Department is dealing with a 900 percent increase in the unlawful cultivation and manufacture of marihuana [sic] concentrate, and a 99 percent increase in the unlawful distribution of marijuana dn marijuana concentrate. The quantity of illegal marijuana seized by the Denver police has increased 3,424 percent on average per case. The volume of marijuana seized per case has increased from an average of 162 pounds to 5,724 pounds. In Denver unlawful public consumption of marijuana citations has increased over 300 percent per year since the legalization of recreational marijuana. The Denver Police Department is busier enforcing marijuana laws and investigating crimes directly related to marijuana, including murderers, robberies and home invasions, than any other time in the history of the city.


Mitchell R. Morrissey
Denver District Attorney

CO Dept of Education Marijuana Tax Revenue Fact Sheet Sept 2016

CO HKCS 2015 Youth Marijuana Use Fact Sheet

CO Legislative Council Staff Marijuana Tax Revenue Issue Brief

Original post, 5:43 a.m. October 13: 
"Don't repeat our terrible mistake."

These words are delivered in extremely dour fashion by former Denver mayor Wellington Webb in a new commercial opposing Proposition 205, an Arizona measure to legalize limited recreational marijuana sales in that state. The proposition is clearly modeled on Colorado's Amendment 64, passed here in 2012; it even uses the slogan "Regulate marijuana like alcohol." And Webb isn't the only Colorado political noteworthy to speak out against it in the Arizona ad. Also talking about marijuana legalization using ultra-negative terms is onetime Colorado governor Bill Owens, whose image is juxtaposed with the shot above of marijuana edibles made to look like typical candy bars, presumably in an attempt to lure unsuspecting children into taking a bite.

Problem is, such edibles have never been legally sold in Colorado, and thanks to the state's packaging laws, they can't be now, either.

The photo isn't the only example of misinformation in the ad — and the results frustrate Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project (a supporter of Arizona's Proposition 205) and among the leading proponents of Amendment 64. As Tvert points out, Webb hints that a large amount of the tax revenue generated by marijuana sales has gone to regulating the substance, when such costs account for a little over 7 percent of the total, and suggests that the supposed windfall for school construction hasn't come to pass by noting that none of the money has gone to Denver schools. This last claim is true, but only because Denver schools haven't applied for the cash, of which there's been plenty.

"The opponents of Proposition 205 recognize that there is a significant benefit in regulating and taxing marijuana," Tvert maintains, "and they're trying to downplay those benefits when it comes to the revenue that could be raised. They're flat-out denying them. And while voters aren't going to base their decision about which way to vote solely on whether revenue will be raised for schools, it will make an impact. It will factor into their decision, so it's really appalling to see this group denying the facts" — something it's done before, according to previous news-agency analyses.

What are the actual details? "In the fiscal year 2015-2016, state taxes on marijuana raised $40 million for public-school construction, and more than $2 million in additional funds that have been earmarked for public schools," Tvert notes. "And that's not even counting the money that's being doled out for school health officials, like nurses, and a new anti-bullying grant that's going to be delivered to schools."

The $40 million for school construction has mostly gone to "rural districts and other places where they're in serious need," Tvert allows. "For them to say Denver hasn't gotten any is almost clever, if it wasn't so egregiously obvious. But the truth is, Amendment 64's promise of raising $40 million for schools has been fulfilled, and more has been raised beyond that."

He's equally aghast at "former governor Owens declaring that marijuana is being marketed to children when there are clear laws against that. And to have his image appear next to a bunch of marijuana candy bars that would not be allowed in Colorado under our laws is ridiculous."

The stats related to marijuana edibles, as well as to traffic deaths and more, are also dubious, in that they're drawn from data collected by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federally funded law enforcement group that's spent the past several years churning out material intended to show the terrible effects of marijuana legalization in Colorado, as opposed to looking at the topic in an unbiased manner.

"The validity of RMHIDTA’s data has not only been questioned repeatedly by the media, but also by another federal agency," Tvert notes in a reference to the U.S. Postal Service, which last year disputed the Colorado organization's claim that the amount of cannabis being mailed out of state had skyrocketed. As reported by U.S. News & World Report, the Postal Service maintained that the number of marijuana-related packages intercepted in the wake of legalization in Colorado and Washington state actually dropped 12 percent.

In Tvert's view, the RMHIDTA "did not make even the slightest attempt to be objective, but they took every opportunity possible to be disingenuous."

Tvert sees Webb and Owens as "sore losers who are trying to scrap together some kind of shred of victory in another state. But their lies are just as egregious now as when they told them about Amendment 64 back in 2012."

Here's the Proposition 205 ad.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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