Right On: Colorado’s bad trip with marijuana

Stock image, St. George News

OPINION — Medical marijuana supporters tout its pain relieving benefits. Recreational users totaled over 22 million in 2015 per the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. A majority of Americans now believe it should be legalized.

Both Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana via ballot initiatives. Their experiments are poster children for Robert Merton’s law of unintended consequences and a cautionary tale for Utah.

Start with the explosion of “chronic pain.” Colorado’s number of medical marijuana card holders jumped from 1,000 in 2006 to over 108,000 in 2012. Unscrupulous doctors prescribe medical marijuana for recreational users despite government “safeguards.”

Colorado and Washington tax medical sales at a lower rate than recreational pot. Unsurprisingly, medical pot shops have proliferated and over half of all legal marijuana sales are made at the lower rate.

“Am I afraid about medical marijuana dispensaries taking my business? They have all the business. They are the industry,” said James Lathrop, the owner of Seattle’s first licensed pot shop, Cannabis City.

Proponents argued that illegal dealing would be curtailed and the states would reap substantial tax revenue from legal sales. Both states struck out.

Licensing and regulatory requirements for legal marijuana stores plus heavy taxes have priced legal pot well above what’s available on the black market. Why pay retail when illegal or medical prices are readily available?

Legal marijuana dealers face another unintended consequence: banks won’t deal with them.

Since marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic, banks could be violating the Controlled Substances Act and be guilty under federal money laundering statutes. Even making loans to pot shops has a down side: foreclosing on a defaulted loan could leave the bank owning marijuana, the shops’ only substantial asset – not an appealing outcome.

Hence most marijuana sales are for cash and tax evasion is widespread. Forty-seven licensed Colorado dispensaries were caught breaking the law in 2016.

All marijuana users take a number of personal health risks.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine. The FDA says marijuana has both short- and long-term effects on the brain. It alters senses, changes mood, impairs body movement and memory, and causes difficulty with thinking and problem-solving.

Marijuana causes both physical and mental problems in unborn children and is linked to increased adult heart attack risk and mental illness. Long-term users trying to quit often experience grouchiness, sleeplessness and anxiety; 30 percent have marijuana use disorder.

Amplifying these problems, marijuana is stronger today than in the 1970s.

“Tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive drug in marijuana, has risen from 5 percent to an average of 13 percent today,” federal prosecutor Robert White said. “In some medical dispensaries in Colorado, it now makes upwards of 30 percent of the drug.”

Marijuana-infused foods now account for 45 percent of Colorado’s recreational market, but edible pot poses even more serious problems. People don’t realize that it takes longer for the body to feel the effects. So they consume more of the edible, trying to get high faster or thinking they haven’t taken enough.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote about eating a marijuana candy bar in her Denver hotel room and then spending eight hours curled up in a paranoid, hallucinatory state. Young children have ended up in the hospital after finding a marijuana brownie “hidden” in the house.

Colorado reports that traffic deaths related to marijuana more than doubled while emergency room visits rose over 50 percent.

All of these concerns are magnified for teens and young adults.

Marijuana’s use is widespread among young people. In 2015, more than 11 million young adults ages 18 to 25 had used marijuana in the past year. Marijuana affects brain development, especially in teenagers. A Duke University study showed an average IQ loss of eight points for heavy users who started in their teens.

Prosecutor White points out that states that have legalized the drug experience a much higher rate of usage: 9.4 percent of children have used marijuana in states that have legalized medical marijuana, whereas the average in nonmedical marijuana states is at 6.7 percent. In the 18-25 range, 18.78 percent of the age group nationally has used marijuana in the past month while in Colorado it stands at 27.26 percent.

School officials in Colorado report an increase in marijuana-related incidents in middle and high schools.

We have seen a sharp rise in drug-related disciplinary actions which, anecdotally, from credible sources, is being attributed to the changing social norms surrounding marijuana,” said Janelle Krueger of the Colorado Department of Education.

Krueger said school officials believe the jump is linked to the message that legalization is sending to kids: that marijuana is a medicine and a safe and accepted recreational activity.

“They just want to be cool,” Mesa County Colorado Sheriff’s Officer Mike Dillon said of some of the younger students he has seen with pot at school.

Pointing to the opioid overdose epidemic, some argue that medical marijuana is a preferred alternative. I respond that adding another problem-plagued drug to the mix available to those who abuse drugs is a terrible choice. If opioids can’t be controlled, is there any reason to believe marijuana could be?

I’m with Nancy Reagan’s advice on drugs: Utah should “just say no.”

Read more: Hurdles expected for Utah’s medical marijuana research law

Howard Sierer is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: hsierer@stgeorgeutah.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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34 Comments

  • Happy Day June 15, 2017 at 8:13 am

    Well written article.

    • LocalTourist June 15, 2017 at 9:28 am

      By well written, do you mean an article that is filled with outdated and false information?
      Because if that’s what you meant, I agree.
      Colorado’s problems are being overblown by the people who benefit from money being shoveled into anti-pot programs. That includes law enforcement (that gets more money into their budget when there’s a larger issue to face), private addiction recovery programs, and anti-weed propaganda programs that get federal money for their “just say no” programs. Nancy Reagan has rested in peace for over a year, and her “Just Say No” program should be left to rest in peace as well.

      • desertgirl June 15, 2017 at 10:54 am

        Problems being overblown? So you think that Marijuana-related traffic deaths increasing by 154 percent between 2006 and 2014 is overblown? Really? Emergency room hospital visits that were “likely related” to marijuana increased by 77 percent from 2011 to 2014. Doesn’t matter or you refuse to believe the statistics from big brother, hospitals; medical profession, and the police agencies?

        Medical marijuana is a completely different conversation/argument from selling cannabis like candy.

        • desertgirl June 15, 2017 at 10:55 am

          btw I was referring to the reefer state: Colorado

          • LocalTourist June 15, 2017 at 12:34 pm

            You want stats? Which ones do you want? (By the way, you threw some numbers out without citing the source… makes them useless.)
            Funny, but Utah is talking about medical use….NOT recreational use. Howard, and apparently you, prefer to blend the two topics together. But lets look at our neighbor, since that seems to be the “thing” right now, hammering Colorado—
            After recreational legalization, Colorado traffic deaths fell. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2016/12/29/after-states-legalized-medical-marijuana-traffic-deaths-fell.html

            Now lets look at those “marijuana traffic fatalities”. A person could smoke their weed in Colorado on Friday, b stoned for a few hours, and then die in a crash on their way to work on Tuesday. Even though they aren’t stoned, the fatality requires a blood draw, and the blood shows THC in their blood. Ah, yet another marijuana related traffic death. This is why a better test for THC intoxication needs to be used. The numbers do NOT mean those dead drivers were impaired, the stats are inaccurate.

            And relying on stats from police…hmm…because, they’d never lie, right?
            Wrong.
            https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobsullum/2016/09/08/dishonest-government-report-assumes-marijuana-legalization-has-no-benefits/#5a1b45c13ba2

            Many police agencies receive federal funding based on the level of criminal activity. If we reduce crime, we get less money, so what do you think administrators are going to do? Henry Anslinger found himself in just that predicament when prohibition ended (during the Great Depression). So he found a new enemy to chase besides alcohol– cannabis (marijuana). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-influence/real-reasons-marijuana-is-banned_b_9210248.html

            Emergency room visits and calls to poison control are up, perhaps because people are less afraid of being busted for being caught with marijuana. Wouldn’t that be novel, to be more comfortable with seeking medical care? But lets see, how many increased deaths have we seen from marijuana? NONE.

            Yes, I stand by my statement. The whole thing is overblown. The world didn’t end when 29 other states legalized cannabis, and the sky will not fall when Utah does the same. (And if you’re LDS, you CAN get a temple recommend while using cannabis in CA, WA, OR and CO.)

  • Brian June 15, 2017 at 8:36 am

    If we lived in a truly libertarian society with personal responsibility, I’d say it isn’t the governments right to say what people put into their own bodies.

    However, we live in a nanny state where I have to pay for other peoples food, housing, medical care, utilities, cell phones, and even their soda pop addictions (http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/terence-p-jeffrey/357700000-1-grocery-chain-soft-drinks-no-1-purchase-food-stamp). So under those circumstances, I as a tax payer / benefactor absolutely get to have a say in the choices they make, because they directly affect me – the person subsidizing their lifestyle.

    States that are legalizing marijuana are insane. The long term ramifications for this choice are going to be horrible (we’re seeing a good taste of that already). I hope Utah can look beyond the possible tax revenue and use logic and reason on this decision. NO to recreational use. NO to medical use. YES to use for children’s seizure treatment because it’s effective and contains zero THC.

    I’m the first to acknowledge that the “war on drugs” has been an expensive disaster, and has been used as cover to militarize our police. Addicts should get help, dealers should get locked away doing hard labor. No other “war” is needed. But legalization isn’t the answer.

    • Craig June 15, 2017 at 9:11 am

      Perhaps, but it’s always society who pays the cost when doing whatever you choose fails misearanly.

      Should the taxpayer always be on the hook when things go wrong?

    • LocalTourist June 15, 2017 at 9:36 am

      The upcoming ballot initiative is for medical only, so your fears should be allayed.

      I’m not sure where you get the idea that “long term ramifications” are as horrible as you say they are…care to cite sources?

      Just FYI, medical use in almost all medical cannabis states includes THC. Without it, you may as well be selling Tylenol 3 (which has narcotic in it) without the narcotic…it’s just Tylenol. Useful, but not so much.

  • Henry June 15, 2017 at 8:39 am

    First, Maureen Dowd took a huge dose of marijuana. Anyone would react the same if they overdosed on any medication. With instructions, the internet & common sense available, there is no reason for her to have taken such a huge dose. Compare her experience to taking about 20 Percocets – except her liver is just fine with the marijuana. Like any drug, too much had effects.

    I’m a medical professional and – while I understand the writer’s point of view, I respectfully disagree. Marijuana has always been easily available and denying its medical benefits is unfair and short-sighted. Children break into their parents alcohol & medication stashes, it only follows that they would use pot if they could find it. At least colorado & the other states that have legalized pot gain tax revenue – even if the Feds won’t allow banks to work with dispensaries. Ignoring that marijuana has medicinal qualities isn’t going to make it go away. Keeping it illegal won’t make it go away. Isn’t it possible that the use has pretty much been the same – people are more likely to admit they used it these days due to there being less of a stigma attached? Finally, cancer patients, chronic pain patients and PTSD patients would disagree with your views. Unless you suffer from a condition treated by marijuana, you simply can’t understand.

    Try smoking or ingesting marijuana and then drinking the equivalent in mixed drinks- u tell me which was more pleasurable and had less lasting effects

    • Craig June 15, 2017 at 9:19 am

      And, who pays when things get abused, like the staggering increase in medical conditions requiring marijuana in Colorado?

      I, too, am a physician, an emergency physician. And, I get to see the other side of what you see, the abuse and, yes, involvement with other drugs. And, the taxpayer is left with the bill for the individual’s right to choose. That is inappropriate.

      • LocalTourist June 15, 2017 at 9:31 am

        Pfffft.
        Your “treatment” means putting a pot “overdose” patient in the back bed, starting an IV line so you can give some Valium if you decide its needed, turn out the lights, and let them sleep it off. Admit it, cannabis is much safer than oxycodone, Fentanyl, and Soma, and Tylenol 3 that you prescribe when a guy breaks an arm.

        Tell me, doctor, just how many cannabis overdose deaths have you attended?

        As far as money, taxes collected will cover a substantial chunk of your “treatment”.

      • comments June 15, 2017 at 1:09 pm

        Yea doctor craig, I’d also like to know how many cannabis overdoses you’re seeing? If anything, I bet you’re seeing folks that mix 2 or more drugs + maybe alcohol. Give us a short list of these severe health effects you’re seeing just cannabis causing?

        😉

        • comments June 15, 2017 at 1:12 pm

          I know most you docs are careful dolling out opioid narcotics, but not all of you, and that’s a real problem. Let’s compare the problems caused by legal RX opioids to the cannabis? Really, is there even a comparison?

  • Craig June 15, 2017 at 9:14 am

    May I add another question. You suggest free help for addicts. Why not a loan they can pay back and be exprct d to pay back?

    This is the taxpayer paying the cost of others doing whatever they want, without restraint, isn’t it?

    Should we propose people doing whatever they choose and the taxpayer staying on the hook when it does not work out?

    • LocalTourist June 15, 2017 at 9:32 am

      That “taxpayer” would be the person purchasing the cannabis. Colorado took in $200 million in tax revenue on sales of over $1 Billion last year.
      THAT is where the tax money is coming from.

  • DRT June 15, 2017 at 9:32 am

    Per Chicken Little, “The Sky Is Falling! The Sky Is Falling!”

    People who are afraid of changes will use any argument they can come up with, true or not, to avoid that change. I really have to wonder just how many of these anti-pot folks are uneducated, and how many of them are more concerned about the legalization of it hurting their black market business!

  • LocalTourist June 15, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Fewer Colorado kids used cannabis after recreational (not medical) legalization. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/colorado-s-teen-marijuana-usage-dips-after-legalization/
    Treatment of hard narcotics such as heroin are easier when cannabis is used as a way to wean them off opioids. http://www.alternet.org/drugs/evidence-overwhelming-cannabis-exit-drug-major-addictions-not-gateway-new-ones
    Taxes paid by users of cannabis have given Colorado plenty of money to repair freeways, build schools, build up law enforcement, and pay for drug education/rehab services. So the “nanny state” has no need to oversee what people do in their own homes. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/marijuana-tax-revenue-hit-200-million-in-colorado-as-sales-pass-1-billion-2017-02-10
    Cannabis is showing great promise as an alternative to narcotics for pain control, with fewer side effects. http://ns.umich.edu/new/releases/23622-medical-marijuana-reduces-use-of-opioid-pain-meds-decreases-risk-for-some-with-chronic-pain
    So far it sounds like just the opposite of “horrible”. Anything I’ve missed?

  • Henry June 15, 2017 at 9:53 am

    http://www.denverpost.com/2017/02/01/colorado-marijuana-er-visits-poison-control/

    Also, Statistics can be manipulated- if 1 person went to ER for pot in January and 2 people went in February- that’s a 100% increase. Half of all doctors graduated in the lower 50% of their class. Life is 100% fatal.

    It’s possible that people are more willing to admit using pot cuz it’s legal – previously they would have faced threat of arrest. I know MANY people who smoke pot occasionally & aren’t addicted. And… if legal, we can control the pesticides used for growing.

    I can walk out my front door and buy pot from about 10 people in a 2 block radius. It’s already used- here and everywhere- legalization will only allow tax revenue and people who need it to legally obtain it instead of driving to Colorado or Nevada. Or getting it from your neighbor or someone at church.

    • theone June 15, 2017 at 10:30 am

      Henry, I can only commend you for your insight on this subject. We agree.

  • Henry June 15, 2017 at 11:19 am

    Editor Joyce Kuzmanic – is it possible for individuals to simultaneously use the same log-in name on St George News?

    I am the “Henry” that has been providing to St George News articles for several years. I am NOT the same “Henry” that provided the two comments above in this article, and I was logged in at the time that this alternate Henry’s were made.

    I have a feeling that some wise guy probably created a screen name of “Henry ” with a space at the end of the name, or some other not easily identifiable keystroke.

    FYI – I agree with the overall premise of this Alternative Henry that marijuana should be legalized and regulated, similar in aspects to alcohol and tobacco. I detailed my position, contrasting hard and soft drugs, in a St George News article last year.

    • Joyce Kuzmanic Joyce Kuzmanic June 15, 2017 at 1:21 pm

      Hi Henry.

      You cannot have the same username but users can set their own screen name / nickname (Henry) that may be the same as someone else has chosen.

      To distinguish yourself, you can setup a Gravatar that will be associated with your email.

      ST. GEORGE NEWS
      Joyce Kuzmanic
      Editor in Chief

      • Henry June 15, 2017 at 4:58 pm

        Thank you for the info Joyce, good to know. Not difficult to create a duplicate screen name, is it? I’ll take appropriate action if the other Henry becomes a regular contributor. Thanks!

  • Rockman June 15, 2017 at 11:55 am

    Mr. Sierer your opinion piece is littered with outdated and inaccurate information. I do not know if this was by deliberate intent or lack of information. The efforts that Utah is moving towards is to give patients and doctors the option to use Medical Cannabis for specific medical conditions that would be monitored and controlled by the Doctor. No one in the movement has suggested or implied recreation use. Take the time to learn about patients needs before you would condemn then as potheads looking for a quick high. My son suffers with seizures. All of the FDA approved drugs for his seizures have failed to help him. Cannabis oil has been the only effective treatment option for him which he legally uses in Utah. There are far more patients with other medical conditions that can benefit for Medical Cannabis. Why would you deny a Doctor the ability to prescribe to qualified patient?

  • comments June 15, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    “Howard Sierer moved to St. George in 2000 after living on both coasts and places in between. He worked as a satellite systems engineer and program manager, finishing his career managing fiber optic communications systems development.”

    You know, Howard may have been some kind of tech hotshot back in the day– “satellite systems engineer” or w/e, but I think he knows little to nothing about politics. His views match that of an open borders globalist, corporate-friendly neo-con than those of an actual conservative; leads me to believe he’s gets all his info and opinion from just a few neo-con sources. Just something to think about.

  • comments June 15, 2017 at 2:30 pm

    Bottom line: Our wonderfully wholsome and honest(sarcasm, for you dullards), extremely powerful and hard lobbying, mult-trillion dollar, multi-national pharma businesses can’t make a profit off something you can grow in your backyard and use to relieve pain, and this is very worrying to them; it might even cut into corporate profits! (and in howard’s mind, this is the worst thing in the whole world)

  • youcandoit June 15, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    I’m tired of everyone thinking what’s best for everyone because what works for you may not work for another. I live with a rare spine disease it feels like I have shards of glass in my bones. My son has seizures and marijuana doesn’t help him. So lock up your medicine and be responsible. It’s sad we live in a world where common sense is practically gone.

  • Henry June 15, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    I’m not gonna change my name – I’ve been Henry for 35+ years. I’m also a supporter of legalized marijuana, have been so for most of my life. Have a nice day.

    • ladybugavenger June 16, 2017 at 9:27 am

      Oh Henry! Is this Henry 1 or Henry 2. I would say Henry 2. At least both Henry’s support legalization of marijuana otherwise it might look like Henry is arguing with himself.

    • Henry June 16, 2017 at 11:16 am

      And this is the first time that you’ve ever posted on St George News, clown. I’ve been on here for 3+ years. Take a hit of your weed and chill out.

    • comments June 16, 2017 at 12:44 pm

      yup, i been an active reader of the site for quite some time and only recall one henry.

  • rchase June 16, 2017 at 7:45 am

    Liars.

  • rchase June 16, 2017 at 7:52 am

    “Legal marijuana dealers face another unintended consequence: banks won’t deal with them”

    — nonsense! It is illegal under federal law to bank proceeds from sales of cannabis because it is federal contraband — this in no sense a consequence of states legalizing cannabis, unintended or otherwise.

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