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EDITORIAL: Locals confront the governor about pot

By: Gazette editorial board
December 2, 2017 Updated: December 2, 2017 at 3:16 pm
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Parents, teachers, law enforcement, The Gazette and others owe a big thanks to El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr. for an overdue drug intervention with Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Gonzalez and Hickenlooper exchanged their differences about recreational pot legalization this week at the annual winter conference for Colorado local governments in Colorado Springs.

Gonzalez admonished Hickenlooper for turning a blind eye to an increase in marijuana-related highway deaths, rising numbers of children and teens using pot and a surge in homelessness most of the state's major homeless shelter directors attribute to legalization.

The criticism from Gonzalez, Hickenlooper said, is "absolute nonsense."

Really?

The governor routinely says he discourages recreational marijuana use, but he is best known throughout the country for appearances on national television that make legalization sound harmless and successful.

On "Meet the Press," Hickenlooper called Colorado's legalization "one of the great social experiments of our time."

The governor said Colorado has seen no spike in use among teenagers, which is categorically false. Ask teachers, principals and cops. Or, look to research in a 168-page report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area agency. It shows Colorado ranks first in the nation for marijuana use among kids and adults, with children's use 55 percent higher than the national average.

Gonzalez asked Hickenlooper if several negative trends he cited are related to recreational pot, and the governor said "some are, some aren't."

Confronted about a substantial rise in deadly car crashes involving pot, Hickenlooper said "we don't have a good baseline" because law enforcement only recently began testing drivers for THC.

That's not what The Denver Post reported. The newspaper's recent investigation found the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes who tested positive jumped by 47 percent from 2013 through 2016. As for prevalence of testing in the earliest year of legalization, the Post found "testing of drivers did not change appreciably, federal fatal-crash data show."

In supporting legalization on news and late-night shows, Hickenlooper says commercialized pot reduces drug dealing.

"We see anecdotally less drug dealers around places where they used to hang out," he said on "Meet the Press."

Perhaps, anecdotally, that is true. So is the observation that Colorado's modern pot dealers work out of giant warehouses, rental homes and storefronts that dot main streets throughout Colorado cities and towns. Many operate illegally.

El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder speaks of more than 550 illegal rural home-grow operations throughout the county.

County Commissioners Mark Waller and Stan VanderWerf joined Gonzalez in expressing frustration with Hickenlooper's marijuana approval.

"This is a serious statewide problem that has happened as a result of the legalization of marijuana," Waller said. "And when our governor - even tacitly - endorses (legalization), he does further harm to the security of our state."

VanderWerf said the governor's comments "indicate that he doesn't understand the damage that recreational marijuana is doing to Colorado."

Hickenlooper deserves credit for a lot of good outcomes in nearly two full terms. Alas, his barely veiled championing of Big Commercial Pot may become his legacy. That will look bad for him after the insidious consequences of legalization become more obvious throughout coming decades.

The governor could and should stop suggesting this "social experiment" has been good. He has to warn other states and spare them from making this mistake.

The Gazette editorial board

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