As Arizona voters go to the polls this Tuesday, November 8, 2016 to decide the issue of recreational marijuana use it may be useful to consider some of the unintended consequences. The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA ) first preliminary report on Colorado’s passage of recreational marijuana has recently been issued. Here is the link to the report: . Here are some of the statistics offered in its Executive Summary:

·       Colorado Driving Fatalities: From 2006 to 2011, traffic fatalities decreased in Colorado 16 percent, but fatalities involving drivers testing positive for marijuana increased 114 percent.

·       Colorado Youth Marijuana Use: In 2011, the national average for youth 12 to 17 years old considered “current” marijuana users was 7.64 percent which was the highest average since 1981. The Colorado average percent was 10.72.

·       Colorado Adult Marijuana Use: In 2011, the national average for young adults ages 18 to 25 considered current marijuana users was at 18.7 percent. The Colorado average was 27.26 percent.

·       Colorado Emergency Room – Marijuana Admissions: From 2005 through 2008 there was an average of 741 visits per year to the emergency room in Colorado for marijuana-related incidents involving youth. That number increased to 800 visits per year between 2009 and 2011.

·       Colorado Marijuana-Related Exposure Cases: From 2005 through 2008, the yearly average number of marijuana-related exposures for children ages 0 to 5 years was 4. For 2009 through 2012, that number increased 200 percent to an average of 12 per year.

·       Diversion of Colorado Marijuana (General): From 2005 to 2008, compared to 2009 to 2012, interdiction seizures involving Colorado marijuana quadrupled from an average per year of 52 to 242. During the same period, the average number of pounds of Colorado marijuana seized per year increased 77 percent from an average of 2,220 to 3,937 pounds. A total of 7,008 pounds was seized in 2012.

·       Diversion of Colorado Marijuana (Postal Packages): In 2010, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service seized 15 packages with Colorado marijuana destined for other states. Seizures steadily increased through 2012 when 158 parcels were seized. From 2010 to 2012 Colorado marijuana seized by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service increased from 57 to 262 pounds.

There is no doubt Colorado’s political, social and economic sectors are changing as a result of its recreational use. Socially, the adjoining states of Oklahoma and Nebraska have filed lawsuits against Colorado because drivers with marijuana in their systems are impacting law enforcement resources in these neighboring states.

Increased use by teenagers has increased educational and disciplinary problems in high schools as well as a rise in the expulsion rate. The strategy used by marijuana sellers to create very enticing edible marijuana products that look like candy or cookies have proven to be highly attractive to younger children causing more emergency room visits.

Denver’s homeless population has exploded placing a greater burden on the area non-profits that service this population.

Politically, Colorado is experiencing regulatory confusion surrounding public consumption in the form of the maximum amount allowable in edibles as well as enforcement as it pertains to what amount in the blood stream constitutes impairment.

Economically, local governments have received almost $6 million dollars in revenues from the industry in 2014 and 2015. But at what price to those very same local governments? Communities are experiencing increased costs in law enforcement and increased gang-related crime activity. Companies are realizing a demonstrated loss of worker productivity. In fact, some Colorado companies have begun recruiting employees from out of state as many prospective Colorado employees can no longer pass drug tests for employment. Local governments and companies are beginning to question their cost-benefits related to recreational marijuana use.

Tourists are flocking to the state for the express purpose of purchasing and using recreational marijuana but those tourist dollars have been diverted from traditional tourism activities.

Since recreational use was legalized drug trafficking has increased with more seizures of marijuana smuggled into the state for legal sale as well as the export of Colorado grown marijuana to other regions of the country.

Sometimes it is prudent to be wary about what we wish for. Arizona’s residents have approved of medical marijuana use and that was a compassionate decision. Do we really want to see recreational marijuana shops using graphic images of lollipops and candy on their store fronts acting as a magnet for our children? It is occurring in Colorado. Do we really expect huge sums of revenue…only to be consumed in greater law enforcement costs and the creation of yet another new state agency to oversee its use? Arizona already has a high school dropout rate that is embarrassing. Do we really want to add another factor sure to depress that rate even further?

Beware of unintended consequences. It is a economic, social and medical force that Arizona is simply not prepared to deal with.

© Joyce Clark, 2016        


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