Since 2013, the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federally funded law-enforcement organization, has been issuing highly critical, persistently biased reports about the impact of marijuana legalization in Colorado.
But beyond a few scattered stories and a brief reference in U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer's unexpectedly strident September 28 anti-pot op-ed in the Denver Post, the group's latest salvo, released this month, has gotten comparatively little traction, especially compared to its earliest offerings.
Mason Tvert, co-author of Amendment 64, the 2012 measure that legalized limited recreational cannabis sales in Colorado, and spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, thinks one reason may be that half a decade of screeching about the sky falling begins to fall on deaf ears when people notice it's still there.
According to Tvert, corresponding via email, "Whatever credibility this federal anti-marijuana agency had was lost years ago when it became clear that its top priority was maintaining marijuana prohibition rather than public health and safety."
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RMHIDTA director Tom Gorman, whose group's jurisdiction includes Montana, Utah and Wyoming in addition to Colorado, has acknowledged in this space that some of the data assembled for the reports is opinion-based, meaning it may not pass muster in a scientific survey. An example can be found in bullet points pertaining to the "societal impact of legalization" in the fresh update to the document, "The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: Volume 5, The Impact."
Specifically, the declaration that "marijuana tax revenue represents approximately nine-tenths of 1 percent of Colorado’s FY 2017 budget" is a transparent attempt to convince readers that turning back the clock and banning pot wouldn't cause much damage to the state's bottom line. Likewise, the assertion that "violent crime increased 18.6 percent and property crime increased 8.3 percent in Colorado since 2013" implies that marijuana legalization is the reason for these boosts, despite the lack of any meaningful evidence to prove that's true.
Here are those grabby digits and more, as excerpted from the report's "executive summary:"
Section I: Traffic Fatalities & Impaired Driving
• Since recreational marijuana was legalized, marijuana related traffic deaths increased 151 percent while all Colorado traffic deaths increased 35 percent.
• Since recreational marijuana was legalized, traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana more than doubled from 55 in 2013 to 138 people killed in 2017.
• This equates to one person killed every two-and-a-half days compared to one person killed every six-and-a-half days.
The percentage of all Colorado traffic deaths that were marijuana related increased from 11.43 percent in 2013 to 21.3 percent in 2017.
Section II: Marijuana Use
• Colorado past month marijuana use shows a 45 percent increase in comparing the three-year average prior to recreational marijuana being legalized to the three years after legalization.
• Colorado past month marijuana use for ages 12 and older is ranked 3rd in the nation and is 85 percent higher than the national average.
Section III: Public Health
• The yearly rate of emergency department visits related to marijuana increased 52 percent after the legalization of recreational marijuana. (2012 compared to 2016)
• The yearly rate of marijuana-related hospitalizations increased 148 percent after the legalization of recreational marijuana. (2012 compared to 2016)
• Marijuana only exposures more than tripled in the five-year average (2013-2017) since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana compared to the five-year average (2008-2012) prior to legalization.
Section IV: Black Market
• RMHIDTA Colorado Task Forces (10) conducted 144 investigations of black market marijuana in Colorado resulting in:
239 felony arrests
7.3 tons of marijuana seized
43,949 marijuana plants seized
24 different states the marijuana was destined for
• The number of highway seizures of Colorado marijuana increased 39 percent from an average of 242 seizures (2009-2012) to an average of 336 seizures (2013-2017) during the time recreational marijuana has been legal.
• Seizures of Colorado marijuana in the U.S. mail system has increased 1,042 percent from an average of 52 parcels (2009-2012) to an average of 594 parcels (2013-2017) during the time recreational marijuana has been legal.
Section V: Societal Impact
• Marijuana tax revenue represents approximately nine-tenths of 1 percent of Colorado’s FY 2017 budget.
• Violent crime increased 18.6 percent and property crime increased 8.3 percent in Colorado since 2013.
• 65 percent of local jurisdictions in Colorado have banned medical and recreational marijuana businesses.
Section VI: Marijuana Industry
• According to the Marijuana Policy Group, Market Size and Demand for Marijuana in Colorado 2017 Market
"From 2014 through 2017, average annual adult use flower prices fell 62.0 percent, from $14.05 to $5.34 per gram weighted average."
"Adult use concentrate prices fell 47.9 percent, from $41.43 to $21.57 per gram."
"The average THC content of all tested flower in 2017 was 19.6 percent statewide compared to 17.4 percent in 2016, 16.6 percent in 2015 and 16.4 percent in 2014."
"The average potency of concentrated extract products increased steadily from 56.6 percent THC content by weight in 2014 to 68.6 percent at the end of 2017."
As of June 2017, there were 491 retail marijuana stores in the state of Colorado compared to 392 Starbucks and 208 McDonald’s.
These claims sounds bad if taken at face value — but Tvert warns against doing so. In his view, the RMHIDTA "has developed a reputation for stretching the truth, omitting the facts and doing whatever it can to paint as negative a picture as possible of marijuana in Colorado."
Likewise, the agency's findings often vary from those of other governmental entities with a better track record when it comes to data.
Take these lines from an RMHIDTA segment about driving under the influence of cannabis: "In 2017, of the 112 drivers in fatal wrecks who tested positive for marijuana use, 76 were found to have Delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in their blood, indicating use within hours, according to state data. Of those, 37 percent were over 5 nanograms per milliliter, the state’s limit for driving."
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Presumably, these figures came from the "National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) 2006-2011 and Colorado Department of Transportation 2012-2017," cited in a previous graphic.
But CDOT's digits, which we shared last month, are completely different. They show that the number of fatalities involving a driver who tested positive for 5 nanograms or more of Delta-9 THC, the highly controversial state limit for cannabis intoxication, actually dropped from 2016 (52, or 13 percent of total drivers involved in fatalities who were drug tested) to 2017 (35, or 8 percent.)
Because plenty of other studies contradict the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area's findings, too, the effectiveness of its scare tactics seems to be waning. As Tvert sees it, "You can only cry 'Reefer!’ so many times before people stop taking you seriously."
Click to read the updated version of "The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: Volume 5, The Impact," the latest report from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.