The world finally has an answer to the question: “Does legalized marijuana pay its own way?”
Answer: Not even close.
The Centennial Institute at the acclaimed Colorado Christian University released a study this week that gives the public real answers regarding the costs of the world’s biggest pot bonanza.
The institute commissioned the Greenwood Village firm Quantitative Research and Evaluation Measurement (QREM), which reach conclusions with data provided by The Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the Colorado Department of Revenue, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and a variety of other agencies.
“For every dollar gained in tax revenue, Coloradans spent approximately $4.50 to mitigate the effects of legalization,” finds the study, mostly ignored by Colorado media.
Furthermore, “the costs associated with commercial marijuana are only going to go up as the long-term health consequences have not been fully determined. Like tobacco, commercial marijuana is likely to have health consequences that we won’t be able to determine for decades.”
Researchers concluded Colorado should get serious about reducing increasing death rates associated with THC-related car crashes and suicides.
The study details, with numbers and citations, problems anyone can see. The state reports marijuana generated $223.3 million last year in taxes and fees, and this purportedly helps education. Yet, all the public hears are stories about underfunded schools with diminishing revenues. Rural schools are going to four-day weeks, teaching children in crumbling buildings.
We hear endless complaints from law enforcers about increasing THC-related car crashes. Educators tell of rampant marijuana problems among Colorado’s youth, which the pot industry and its paid-for politicians counter with biased study results.
Other highlights of the Centennial/QREM study include:
• Costs related to the health care system and from high school drop-outs are the largest cost contributors
• Marijuana use remains more prevalent in the population with less education
• Research shows a connection between marijuana use and the use of alcohol and other substances
• Calls to Poison Control related to marijuana increased dramatically since legalization of medical marijuana and legalization of recreational marijuana
• About 15 people are severely burned as a result of marijuana use per year
• People who use marijuana more frequently tend to be less physically active, and a sedentary or inactive lifestyle is associated with increased medical costs
• Adult marijuana users generally have lower educational attainment than non-users
• Research suggests long-term marijuana use leads to reduced cognitive ability, particularly in people who begin using it before they turn 18
• Yearly cost-estimates for marijuana users: $2,200 for heavy users, $1,250 for moderate users, $650 for light users
• 69 percent of marijuana users say they have driven under the influence of marijuana at least once, and 27 percent admit to driving under the influence on a daily basis
• The estimated costs of DUIs for people who tested positive for marijuana in 2016 alone approaches $25 million
• The marijuana industry used enough electricity to power 32,355 homes in 2016
• In 2016, the marijuana industry was responsible for approximately 393,053 pounds of CO2 emissions in 2016
• Marijuana packaging yielded over 18.78 million pieces of plastic
Governor-elect Jared Polis and members of the 2019 Legislature should examine this study. They cannot ban marijuana use and sales, which are protected in the Colorado Constitution. They can and should craft policies to reduce the social and economic costs of this industry, and increase the benefits voters hoped for when they enacted Amendment 64.
The Gazette editorial board