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Colorado's move to recreational marijuana stinks

Will Florida go to pot? Floridians likely will vote to legalize pot. Arguments on each side are persuasive.

  • By Matt Walsh
  • | 5:00 a.m. April 15, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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As the social fabric of America has degenerated for the past 50 years, it certainly was inevitable that one day, Florida would join the growing crowd of states legalizing recreational marijuana.

That day will be Nov. 5, 2024, the day of national and state elections. 

You probably have heard the Florida Supreme Court last week approved the wording of a proposed amendment that will legalize recreational marijuana in Florida.

Consider it a fait accompli. Unless there is an unforeseen tectonic shift in social mores in the next eight months — highly, highly unlikely — Floridians will approve Amendment 3 in the November elections. Here’s a good indicator of why that is so: In 2016, a resounding 73% of Florida voters approved an amendment legalizing medical marijuana.

It was just a matter of time.

The tide is strong. Going into the November elections, 24 states already have legalized recreational marijuana. What’s more, Pew Research Center reported that in a 2022 survey, “88% of U.S. adults said marijuana should be legal, either for recreational and medical use (59%) or for medical use only (30%).

You can understand Americans’ thinking. Many in the generation that brought marijuana out in the open — baby boomers — have been living recreationally stoned for decades. And they let it spread. 

The logic is there, too: Why do we legalize alcohol use and not marijuana, when alcohol is often as insidious of a drug addiction, if not worse, as is marijuana?

What’s more, there is also the logical argument that criminalizing marijuana and other drug use results in the unnecessary destruction of lives and, worse, the unnecessary deaths of thousands of people because of the black-market world of the drug cartels.

As the late Milton Friedman explained in a 1991 interview, the way the U.S. and state governments have approached the war on drugs has been immoral:

“I have estimated statistically that the prohibition of drugs produces, on the average, 10,000 homicides a year. It’s a moral problem that the government is going around killing 10,000 people. It’s a moral problem that the government is making into criminals people who may be doing something you and I don’t approve of, but who are doing something that hurts nobody else.”

In that interview, Friedman makes a convincing, logical, moral case for the legalization of drugs (see:

But, as always, there are at least two sides to every story. You should read the accompanying story from the Western Journal about Colorado’s decade-long experience with legalized recreational marijuana. 

Friedman and other libertarian thinkers say, in effect, the pot smokers and users are hurting no one else but themselves. And yet, as this story documents, there are plenty of Coloradans who would argue otherwise.

As we approach the November elections, we’ll publish more on the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana so that when you fill in the bubbles on your ballot, you will make an informed decision on how you want the future of Florida to be.

Colorado’s decade of marijuana … The results? Tragic in many ways

The following appeared in the Western Journal Feb. 28. Reprinted with permission.

Recreational marijuana jars sold in designated marijuana stores in Denver.
Image courtesy of Colorado Springs Gazette

By Randy DeSoto | The Western Journal

It has been 10 years since Colorado became the first state in the country to legalize marijuana for “recreational use” and opened its weed markets. The impact in many ways has been devastating.

The undeniable consequences have included increased traffic accidents and fatalities, as well as a significant rise in marijuana-related hospitalizations and underage use of the drug. Meanwhile, so many of the benefits supporters promised would come with legalizing cannabis have failed to materialize.

Then there’s just the sad degradation in the quality of life in Colorado that has accompanied the growth of weed culture.

Rachael Stafford, a longtime Colorado resident and entrepreneur, lamented in an interview with The Western Journal that the state’s entire identity has been transformed.

“We were known as the great outdoors state — beautiful mountains, recreation, rafting, skiing, the Olympics. And now, all of a sudden, it’s like we’re the pot state,” she said.

Stafford said that when she takes her son to and from school every morning and afternoon, “there are particular areas that you pull up to in the car, and it just reeks. … Several intersections are known for that.”

Deon Greenwood, a pastor and father of nine living in Colorado Springs, agreed, saying, “We were recently driving (when) suddenly our whole car was filled with the smoke and smell of marijuana. And everybody in the car had something to say about it. So it is literally in your face every day, regardless if I choose it or not.

“Every single time we drive and you see these intoxicated people on the side of the road … it’s a teachable moment for our kids,” Greenwood said.

Stafford recounted that eventually she had to have the marijuana talk with her son, now a teenager.

“And these are conversations I just didn’t think we’d have to have in our car at an intersection,” she said. “You’re trying to explain that while it might be legal … anything you use in excess is going to cause issues.”

Tragedy on the road

One of those issues can definitely be seen on Colorado’s roadways.

The state’s injury crash rate went up 17.8% from 2009 to 2019, according to a 2022 study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

There were also significant increases in Washington (8.4%), Oregon (9.2%) and California (5.7%) after these states followed Colorado’s lead and legalized marijuana.

In Colorado, the share of traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana went from 11% in 2013 to 21% in 2020, according to a Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area report published in 2021. There were a total of 622 deaths in 2020 compared to 481 in 2013.

And the problem is going nationwide now that two dozen states have legalized cannabis.

The Wall Street Journal reported, “The percentage of motor-vehicle crash fatalities involving cannabis rose to 21.5% in 2018 from 9% in 2000, according to a 2021 study in the American Journal of Public Health.”

“It’s a big concern,” said Jane Metrik, a professor at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at the Brown University School of Public Health. “There’s more people on the roads driving after they used cannabis or as they’re smoking or vaping.”

Many marijuana users apparently do not recognize the lasting effects the substance has on them when it comes to driving safely. THC stays in the bloodstream much longer than alcohol.

“The drug affects your ability to maintain position in a lane, reaction time, following distance and overall judgment,” Metrik said. Cannabis also reduces the user’s ability to perform multiple tasks at the same time, such as paying attention to both the road and the car’s dashboard.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry asked nearly 200 participants to smoke THC or use a placebo and then compared their driving in a simulator after they felt they were OK to drive.

While nearly 70% of the cannabis group thought they were ready to drive after 90 minutes, approximately half of them were classified as impaired when compared to the placebo group.

“A lack of insight regarding driving impairments, particularly at 90 minutes, is of concern, given that users will likely self-evaluate when they feel safe to drive,” the study said.

The researchers added that “although performance was improving at 3.5 hours, recovery was not fully seen until 4.5 hours (post-smoking).”

Stafford told The Western Journal that instances of people driving badly have increased since marijuana legalization.

“We as general drivers have definitely noticed a marked increase in just what I would call distracted drivers and lots of red light running and, you know, just changing lanes without signaling or looking just overall kind of (high),” she said.

“We don’t know what the person’s doing, but we have definitely thought, ‘That person’s probably high,’” Stafford said. “I have no basis in fact whether they’re high or not. But that has become a very common phrase: ‘They’re high.’”

Kids impacted by pot

Beyond impaired driving, Stafford told The Western Journal that she is concerned about her son’s exposure to marijuana.

“As a mother, it’s extremely concerning,” she said. “It’s not just isolated to certain parts of town. … It’s very pervasive.”

The Rocky Mountain HIDTA study found that those 12 and above who reported using pot in the previous 30 days increased 26% from 2013 to 2020, and was 61% higher than the national average. For those ages 12 to 17, the rate was 39% higher than the national average.

Anecdotally, Greenwood told The Western Journal that children are being harmed by adult marijuana use as well.

He and his wife are raising two foster children taken from their parents due to pot abuse.

“We got them at the end of 2022 because of neglect. What was the cause of that neglect? Marijuana. So both spaced out on drugs. They neglected to give care to a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old at the time,” the pastor said.

“The state found them unfit and removed the kids,” Greenwood said, and yet “they validate the (addicted) parents by legalizing a substance that is causing them to lose their rights over the children.”

“It’s a vicious cycle,” Greenwood added. “The kids are the ultimate payers of this price in the face of the decisions that parents make. And the law empowers them to do it.”

Emergency room visits up

The number of emergency room visits in Colorado due to acute marijuana intoxication has increased significantly since legalization.

Emergency department visits “nearly doubled after the legalization of recreational marijuana (22 per 100,00 ED visits in 2010 to 2013 versus 38 per 100,000 ED visits from January to June of 2014),” according to a 2016 report published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

“The prevalence of hospitalizations for marijuana exposure in patients aged 9 years and older” almost doubled as well.

The report noted that “these findings may be limited because of stigma surrounding disclosure of marijuana use in the prelegalization era. However, this same trend is reflected in the number of civilian calls to the Colorado poison control center.”

The authors explained that the symptoms of acute marijuana intoxication are cardiovascular — such as tachycardia (rapid heart rate) and hypertension (high blood pressure) — as well as gastrointestinal and can include agitation, psychosis or anxiety.

Benefits proving illusory

One of the major selling points for legalizing marijuana was that it would eliminate the illicit activity that surrounds illegal drug trafficking. But that has certainly not been the case.

The Denver Post reported in 2019 that federal and local law enforcement had conducted “the largest pot bust in Colorado history,” with raids of 250 homes and businesses, dozens of arrests and more than 80,000 marijuana plants seized.

A drug ring had been operating throughout the metro Denver area to the tune of millions of dollars in sales. The money was laundered through family restaurants by multiple Chinese drug trafficking organizations, according to another Post report.

“Colorado has become the epicenter of black market marijuana in the United States,” U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn said at the time. “This investigation may be just the tip of the iceberg.”

The Rocky Mountain HIDTA report noted that the tax boon that legal marijuana was supposed to produce has not really panned out either.

“Marijuana tax revenue represent approximately 0.98% of Colorado’s (fiscal year) 2020 budget,” the report said. That amounted to $319 million of the $32.5 billion budget.

So the legalization of marijuana in Colorado has come with serious downsides, and the promised benefits have failed to play out.

“It doesn’t seem to have solved anything,” Stafford said. “And it seems to have created a lot more issues that nobody really seems to have answers for.”



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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