Soon NJ will grapple with the legalization of marijuana, as our newly elected Governor has vowed to make this an administrative priority as promised during his campaign.  It’s no secret that this is a controversial topic that stirs up passionate sometimes heated debate from all sides of the issue.  In an attempt to keep it in the realm of facts and data, I present the following information.

According to an October 2017 report from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program (https://rmhidta.org)  titled “The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact”, the issue is framed as such:

“There is an ongoing debate in this country concerning the impact of legalizing marijuana. Those in favor argue that the benefits of removing prohibition far outweigh the potential negative consequences. Some of the cited benefits include:

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  • Eliminate arrests for possession and sale, resulting in fewer people with criminal records and a reduction in the prison population
  • Free up law enforcement resources to target more serious and violent criminals
  • Reduce traffic fatalities since users will switch from alcohol to marijuana, which does not impair driving to the same degree
  • No increase in use, even among youth, because of strict regulations
  • Added revenue generated through taxation
  • Eliminate the black market

Those opposed to legalizing marijuana argue that the potential benefits of lifting prohibition pale in comparison to the adverse consequences. Some of the cited consequences include:

  • Increase in marijuana use among youth and young adults
  • Increase in marijuana-impaired driving fatalities
  • Rise in number of marijuana-addicted users in treatment
  • Adverse impact and cost of the physical and mental health damage caused by marijuana use
  • The economic cost to society will far outweigh any potential revenue generated”

To get the proper context of the findings in the report, it is important to note the timeframes in relation to the statistics presented:

2006 – 2008: Medical marijuana pre-commercialization era

2009 – Present: Medical marijuana commercialization and expansion era

2013 – Present: Recreational marijuana era

Given this precursor information, the report goes on to summarize the current state of affairs in Colorado:

Impaired Driving and Fatalities:

  • Marijuana-related traffic deaths when a driver was positive for marijuana more than doubled from 55 deaths in 2013 to 125 deaths in 2016.
  • Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 66 percent in the four-year average (2013-2016) since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana compared to the four-year average (2009-2012) prior to legalization. (During the same time period, all traffic deaths increased 16 percent).
  • In 2009, Colorado marijuana-related traffic deaths involving drivers testing positive for marijuana represented 9 percent of all traffic deaths. By 2016, that number has more than doubled to 21 percent.

Youth Marijuana Use:

  • Youth past month marijuana use increased 12 percent in the three-year average (2013-2015) since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana compared to the three-year average prior to legalization (2010-2012).
  • The latest 2014/2015 results show Colorado youth ranked #1 in the nation for past month marijuana use, up from #4 in 2011/2012 and #14 in 2005/2006.
  • Colorado youth past month marijuana use for 2014/2015 was 55 percent higher than the national average compared to 39 percent higher in 2011/2012.

Adult Marijuana Use:

  • College age past month marijuana use increased 16 percent in the three-year average (2013-2015) since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana compared to the three-year average prior to legalization (2010-2012).
  • The latest 2014/2015 results show Colorado college-age adults ranked #2 in the nation for past-month marijuana use, up from #3 in 2011/2012 and #8 in 2005/2006.
  • Colorado college age past month marijuana use for 2014/2015 was 61 percent higher than the national average compared to 42 percent higher in 2011/2012.
  • Adult past-month marijuana use increased 71 percent in the three-year average (2013-2015) since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana compared to the three-year average prior to legalization (2010-2012).
  • The latest 2014/2015 results show Colorado adults ranked #1 in the nation for past month marijuana use, up from #7 in 2011/2012 and #8 in 2005/2006.
  • Colorado adult past month marijuana use for 2014/2015 was 124 percent higher than the national average compared to 51 percent higher in 2011/2012.

Emergency Department and Hospital Marijuana-Related Admissions:

  • The yearly rate of emergency department visits related to marijuana increased 35 percent after the legalization of recreational marijuana (2011-2012 vs. 2013-2015).
  • Number of hospitalizations related to marijuana:
    • 2011 – 6,305
    • 2012 – 6,715
    • 2013 – 8,272
    • 2014 – 11,439
    • Jan-Sept 2015 – 10,901
  • The yearly number of marijuana-related hospitalizations increased 72 percent after the legalization of recreational marijuana (2009-2012 vs. 2013-2015).

Marijuana-Related Exposure:

  • Marijuana-related exposures increased 139 percent in the four-year average (2013-2016) since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana compared to the four-year average (2009-2012) prior to legalization.
  • Marijuana-Only exposures more than doubled (increased 210 percent) in the four-year average (2013-2016) since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana compared to the four-year average (2009-2012) prior to legalization.

Treatment:

  • Marijuana treatment data from Colorado in years 2006 – 2016 does not appear to demonstrate a definitive trend. Colorado averages 6,683 treatment admissions annually for marijuana abuse.
  • Over the last ten years, the top four drugs involved in treatment admissions were alcohol (average 13,551), marijuana (average 6,712), methamphetamine (average 5,578), and heroin (average 3,024).

Related Data:

  • Crime in Denver increased 6 percent from 2014 to 2016 and crime in Colorado increased 11 percent from 2013 to 2016.
  • Colorado annual tax revenue from the sale of recreational and medical marijuana was 0.8 percent of Colorado’s total statewide budget (FY 2016).
  • As of June 2017, there were 491 retail marijuana stores in the state of Colorado compared to 392 Starbucks and 208 McDonald’s.
  • 66 percent of local jurisdictions have banned medical and recreational marijuana businesses.”

The full report can be viewed here:   http://www.rmhidta.org/html/FINAL%202017%20Legalization%20of%20Marijuana%20in%20Colorado%20The%20Impact.pdf

In my opinion a 0.8 percent contribution to Colorado’s statewide revenue is not much of a return on the investment of increased crime and hospitalization, not to mention the as yet unknown and fully understood long term health risks as more and more people start using marijuana at a younger age.  As a matter of fact, I don't think there is any amount of revenue that is worth that risk until we have definitive scientific proof that the long term health consequences are insignificant.  Given these facts, as a resident of Cedar Grove I am opposed to the purchase and sale of legalized marijuana within the township.  As we proceed to have this discussion in our community, I am appreciative and respectful of opposing points of view,  but whatever decision we make as a community,  let’s just make sure that we are making it not only with open minds, but open eyes too.