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GUEST COLUMN: Gov. Hickenlooper wrong on impact of legal pot

By: PETER DROEGE
April 23, 2018 Updated: April 23, 2018 at 4:07 pm
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photo - Peter Droege is the marijuana and drug addiction policy fellow for the Centennial Institute and is the former executive director of a men's residential drug and alcohol recovery program in Denver.
Peter Droege is the marijuana and drug addiction policy fellow for the Centennial Institute and is the former executive director of a men's residential drug and alcohol recovery program in Denver.  

The governor of Colorado does our nation a grave disservice by misleading the public about the impact of marijuana on his state in the April 9 interview in Rolling Stone magazine.

Neither the governor's statements, nor the smoke rising from 4/20 events, can hide the fact that drug use and addiction, especially among youths, are a growing public health concern in communities across Colorado and the nation.

Consider the governor's statement, "Certainly the worst things that we had great fear about - spikes in consumption, kids, people driving while high - we haven't seen any of that," in light of the following:

According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Colorado is a national leader among 12-17-year-olds in:

(1) Last year marijuana use; (2) Last month marijuana use; and (3) The percentage of youths who tried marijuana for the first time.

A 2017 analysis by the Denver Post showed Colorado had experienced a 145 percent increase in the number of fatal crashes involving marijuana-impaired drivers between 2013 and 2016.

While the analysis stresses that the increase cannot definitively be attributed to the legalization of marijuana, it reports that the number of marijuana-impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes has more than doubled since 2013, the year before the state legalized recreational marijuana use.

A July 20, 2016, article in Westword magazine reports that increased homelessness, drugs, and crime are causing local residents and convention visitors to shun Denver's 16th Street Mall, once one of the most vibrant tourist destinations in the region.

The interview in Rolling Stone is not the first time that Gov. John Hickenlooper has made misstatements about the impact of marijuana in Colorado.

A group of concerned scientists from Harvard University and other institutions wrote a letter to Hickenlooper on March 10, 2017, seeking to correct the record after his Feb. 26, 2017, interview on "Meet the Press" in which he told Chuck Todd that Colorado had not seen a spike in youth drug use after the legalization of recreational marijuana, and that there was "anecdotal" evidence of a decline in drug dealers - claims he repeated in Rolling Stone.

In the letter, the scientists reference numerous studies, including the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, that report a dramatic increase in youth marijuana use, emergency room visits, mental health issues and crime tied to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado.

They quote an official from the state's Attorney General's Office saying legalization "has inadvertently helped fuel the business of Mexican drug cartels . cartels are now trading drugs like heroin for marijuana, and the trade has since opened the door to drug and human trafficking."

Today's high-potency "crack weed" is marketed to youths through vapes, candies, energy drinks, lip balms and other products easy to conceal in homes and schools.

Most dispensaries in Colorado are in low-income neighborhoods, targeting young people who do not need another obstacle in fulfilling their great potential in life.

Hickenlooper initially opposed the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and can play a role in shaping appropriate policies to regulate the fast-growing marijuana industry.

We hope the governor will use his considerable skills to foster a national dialogue to help limit the harm to youths and communities from legalized marijuana.

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Peter Droege is the marijuana and drug addiction policy fellow for the Centennial Institute and is the former executive director of a men's residential drug and alcohol recovery program in Denver. This opinion piece was published originally ran in USA Today.

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