I am the United States attorney for the District of Colorado and chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee Marijuana Workgroup. That gives me a unique perspective on Colorado’s experience with marijuana legalization that I wish to share with the people of Maine.
In 2012, we were told Colorado would lead the nation on a grand experiment in commercialized marijuana. Six years later — with two major industry reports just released and the state Legislature and Denver City Council about to consider more expansion measures — it’s a perfect time to pause and assess some results of that experiment.
Where has our breathless sprint into full-scale marijuana commercialization led Colorado? Well, now Colorado’s youth use marijuana at a rate 85 percent higher than the national average. Now marijuana-related traffic fatalities are up 151 percent since 2013. Now a recent study that surveyed 400 licensed pot shops found 70 percent recommend pregnant women use marijuana to treat morning sickness.
Now an indoor marijuana grow consumes 17 times more power per square foot than an average residence. Now each of the approximately 1 million adult marijuana plants grown by licensed growers in Colorado consumes more than 22.7 liters of water per day. Now Colorado has issued more than 40 little-publicized recalls of retail marijuana laced with pesticides and mold.
And now Colorado has a booming black market exploiting our permissive regulatory system — including Mexican cartel growers for that black market who use nerve-agent pesticides that are contaminating Colorado’s soil, waters and wildlife.
Marijuana commercialization has led Colorado to these places. It also has led to Colorado’s prominence in other states considering commercialization. As the U.S. attorney leading other U.S. attorneys on marijuana issues, I have traveled the country and heard what people are saying about Colorado.
Do they tout Colorado’s tax revenue from commercialized marijuana? No, because there’s been no net gain: marijuana tax revenue accounts for only about 1 percent of revenue flowing into Colorado’s coffers, which is more than washed out by the public health, public safety and regulatory costs of commercialization.
Do they highlight commercialization’s elimination of a marijuana black market? No, because Colorado’s black market has actually exploded after commercialization: we have become a source-state, a theater of operation for sophisticated international drug trafficking and money laundering organizations from Cuba, China, Mexico and elsewhere.
Do they promote our success in controlling production or containing marijuana within our borders? No, because last year alone the regulated industry produced 6.4 metric tons of unaccounted-for marijuana, and more than 80,000 black market plants were found on Colorado’s federal lands.
Does the industry trumpet its promised decrease in alcohol use? No, because Colorado’s alcohol consumption has steadily climbed since marijuana commercialization. How about the industry’s claim that marijuana will cure opioid addiction? No, because a Lancet study found that heavy marijuana users end up with more pain and are more likely to abuse opioids.
Yet on that last point, the marijuana industry is trying to exploit our nation’s opioid tragedy to push its own controlled substance as a panacea. Why? It’s a profit opportunity. Which is also how they see our youth. Which is why in Colorado they now sell marijuana-consumption devices that avoid detection at schools, like vape pens made to look like highlighters and eye-liner. These are the same marketers who advertise higher and higher potency marijuana gummy candy, marijuana suppositories and marijuana “intimate creams.”
This aggressive marketing makes perfect sense in addiction industries like tobacco, alcohol, opioids and marijuana. These industries make the vast majority of their profits from heavy users, and so they strive to create and maintain this user market. Especially when users are young and their brains are most vulnerable to addiction.
I’m not sure the 55 percent of Coloradans who voted for commercialization in 2012 thought they were voting for all this. These impacts are why you may start seeing U.S. attorneys shift toward criminally charging licensed marijuana businesses and their investors. After all, a U.S. attorney is responsible for public safety. My office has always looked at marijuana solely through that lens, and that approach has not changed. But the public safety impacts of marijuana in Colorado have.
Now that federal enforcement has shot down marijuana grows on federal lands, the crosshairs may appropriately shift to the public harms caused by licensed businesses and their investors, particularly those not complying with state law or using purported state compliance as a shield.
We should pause and catch our breath before racing off again at the industry’s urging. Let’s call it “just say know.” Let’s educate ourselves about the impacts of commercialization. Let’s reclaim our right as citizens to have a say in our health, safety and environment. Unfettered commercialization is not inevitable. You have a say.
Robert Troyer is the U.S. attorney for the District of Colorado.
Follow BDN Editorial & Opinion on Facebook for the latest opinions on the issues of the day in Maine.