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EDITORIAL: Surprise, legal pot correlates with rising traffic deaths

By: The Gazette editorial board
August 29, 2017 Updated: August 29, 2017 at 12:49 pm
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Marijuana advocates can no longer claim legalization is devoid of catastrophic results.

The Denver Post, which has embraced legalization, analyzed federal and state data and found results so alarming they published a story last week under the headline "Traffic fatalities linked to marijuana are up sharply in Colorado. Is legalization to blame?"

Of course legalization is to blame. It ushered in a commercial industry that encourages consumption and produces an ever-increasing supply of pot substantially more potent than most users could find when the drug was illegal.

The post reported a 40 percent increase in the number of all drivers, impaired or otherwise, involved in fatal crashes in Colorado between 2013 and 2016. That's why the Colorado State Patrol posts fatality numbers on electronic signs over the highways.

"Increasingly potent levels of marijuana were found in positive-testing drivers who died in crashes in Front Range counties, according to coroner data since 2013 compiled by The Denver Post. Nearly a dozen in 2016 had levels five times the amount allowed by law, and one was at 22 times the limit. Levels were not as elevated in earlier years," The Post explained.

All drivers in marijuana-related crashes who survived last year tested at levels indicating use within a few hours of the tests.

"The trends coincide with the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado that began with adult use in late 2012, followed by sales in 2014," the Post reported.

Greenwood Village Police Chief John Jackson called the trend "a huge public safety problem."

Colorado Springs Councilwoman Jill Gaebler, who wants a ballot measure to legalize recreational pot in Colorado Springs, tried to downplay the Post's findings in a comment on Gazette.com.

"...33% or 196 of all traffic deaths that occurred in 2016 were alcohol-related," Gaebler wrote. "Yet you don't hear anyone trying to ban alcohol, even though it is far more dangerous, in every regard, to marijuana."

The Post found fatal crashes involving drivers under the influence of alcohol grew 17 percent from 2013 to 2015. Figures for 2016 were not available. Drivers testing positive for pot during that span grew by 145 percent, and "prevalence of testing drivers for marijuana use did not change appreciably, federal fatal-crash data show."

The entire country has an enormous problem with alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Given our inability to resolve that problem, it is arguably idiotic to throw another intoxicating substance into the mix with the predictable result of more traffic deaths caused by impairment.

El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez gets it, as shown by a comment he left on gazette.com

"Recent data indicates crime is up statewide, homelessness up, black and Hispanic teen arrests related to MJ are up a lot," Gonzalez wrote. "A Denver TV station did a month long data poll last year at a hospital in Pueblo (which has fully embraced MJ) and found that nearly half of all newborns were testing positive for THC in their bloodstream at birth. Who would want to expand MJ sales in face of such data? And the big supporters of rec MJ can only fall back on their 'go-to' arguments, that 'it isn't as bad as alcohol' or that the negative articles are biased or not credible."

Another Gazette commenter expressed surprise at Gaebler's "casual attitude" about the Denver Post's findings.

"...We already have alcohol, let's add MJ, and why stop there — people want and need their opioids. Let there be drinking, toking, shooting up in our beautiful city," the commenter wrote.

One must stretch the imagination to deny that legalized pot has caused a substantial increase in Colorado highway deaths. Pot is an intoxicating, psychoactive drug. That means it cannot be harmless. Expect emerging and troubling data to make this fact increasingly clear.

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