Marijuana study shows negative impacts of Colorado pot "experiment," director says

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Last year, the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area released a study about the dangers of home marijuana grows shortly before the vote on Amendment 64. Now, as talks about implementing A64 continue, the RMHIDTA is weighing in with a new analysis of weed in Colorado -- one that blames the substance for increased traffic fatalities and more. But director Tom Gorman's goal isn't just to inform locals about the data detailed below. He hopes people in the rest of the country consider it before going the legalization route, too.

When it comes to the greater availability of marijuana, Gorman says, "we have two experimental laboratories, Colorado and Washington. So it's a great way to look at the information and look at the results so far. And if the results are bad, then we probably don't want to do it in California or Oregon or other places."

Gorman readily concedes that he opposes marijuana legalization. However, he maintains that the information contained in the new document, "The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact" -- described as a preliminary report, because it generally deals with a period of time before Amendment 64 took effect -- is untainted by any bias that might exist within the RMHIDTA. That's because it was culled from other sources, most of them related to government and law enforcement.

Proponents of marijuana reform have been critical of such assertions in the past because, in their view, police agencies and the like aren't neutral when it comes to marijuana. But Gorman believes "the data speaks for itself. People can look at it and make up their own minds."

When asked to name the key findings of the study, on view in its entirety here, Gorman points to statistics showing a rise in traffic fatalities as a result of drugged driving. Here's a graphic showing figures related to positive drug tests in traffic fatalities during recent years through 2011....

...and here's a chart depicting the rise: To Gorman, these are not simply numbers. "They're lives we're losing," he says. "Families are devastated by it."

Other areas of concern?

Continue for more about the new Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area study, including more graphics and the complete report. Diversion also worries Gorman. "Colorado is becoming a source of a controlled substance for the rest of the country," he allows.

He points to higher rates of Colorado marijuana seizures outside the state, as graphically depicted here:

Still, he's most anxious about "the impact on kids. Our rate of marijuana use is much higher than the national average -- 29 percent higher. And that's a major concern."

Here's a graphic comparing youth marijuana usage in Colorado to the national average.

"We don't need our kids using any kind of mind-altering substance," Gorman emphasizes. "And it's even more of a problem when you look at young kids having to be hospitalized for marijuana exposure."

The study argues that more incidents like these have happened since the medical marijuana boom kicked off a few years ago. Here's a graphic listing exposures among children five years old or younger:

Marijuana activists argue that regulation of marijuana actually prevents underage people from getting pot, because it's sold behind the counter in a restricted, heavily supervised manner. But Gorman doesn't buy it.

"That's absolutely not true," he says.

Continue for more about the new Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area study, including more graphics and the complete report. In Gorman's view, "if you make a substance more available, if you make it cheaper, if you lower the perception of risk, kids are going to use more dope. Quite frankly, it's just common sense.

"Putting it behind the counter isn't going to have an impact on that at all, because we're not only diverting marijuana to other states, we're diverting it within our own state -- to people under 21, to non-patients. If you really analyze it, that argument really doesn't make any sense."

Given the data, Gorman's not surprised that so many Colorado communities have decided not to allow retail marijuana stores. "If you look at medical marijuana, we're supposed to have such a great, regulated system -- and if you look at what's happening, I think people are saying, 'If we can't control it in this arena, with a limited number of patients and a limited number of people with cards, how are we going to control it when it's recreational and anyone can come in and buy it?'

"I think people are a little scared," he goes on. "They think if it's a mess with medical, then how's it going to be when everything opens up that much more -- even with tourism?"

More reporting needs to be done once recreational stores are operational, Gorman concedes, "and we're going to do it." In the meantime, he hasn't been surprised by the early reaction to the study.

"The pro-legalization side is going to look for anything they can to discredit it," he allows, "and the other side feels it's indicative of how what they said was going to happen has been happening. But hopefully it'll make the people in the middle say, 'These are things we haven't thought about.'"

Here's the complete report:

The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact

More from our Marijuana archive circa September 2012: "Marijuana home grows danger study not timed to hurt Amendment 64, pot opponent says."

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