PHOTO BY VERA OLINSKI
Strategic Intelligence Analyst Kevin Wong reviews the impacts of marijuana legalization on C.O.
By Vera Olinski
STANHOPE — “I'm sorry...what we've done [in Colorado] has impacted you, even in the Garden State,” said Strategic Intelligence Analyst Kevin Wong, Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area of Colorado. During the Center for Prevention and Counseling “Marijuana: Potency, Policy, and Public Impact” summit, May 3 at Perona Farms, Wong, and other national speakers, educated regarding what has happened in Colorado after the legalization of medical marijuana in 2009 and recreational marijuana in 2013. Wong said, the data and trends have increased since 2009 and 2013 in the following areas: fatal accidents, impaired driving incidents, marijuana usage for youth 12 through adult, Emergency Room visits, hospitalizations, Poison Control Center calls, out of state diversion of marijuana, crimes, and homelessness. The only data point going down in Denver, Wong said, is tourist and convention business revenue. One of the strongest points of “The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact” report, Wong said, is the data was collected from other law enforcement, municipalities, state, national, and education sources. For a copy, see: rmhidta.org, “Reports” Tab. According to the FDA, he said, marijuana is a Schedule 1 Drug at this time. Wong explained, factors affecting the rate of drug use are : low price, availability, low perception of risk, and social acceptance because government has legalized it. Colorado marijuana has reached 90 percent Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC,) Wong said. It is not the marijuana of the 60s, when THC was .02 percent.THC is the psycho-active part of the drug. Unintended public and health safety taxpayer costs include Poison Control Center calls. Since post-recreational marijuana legalization, Wong said, calls for ages 6–17 increased 108 percent, and calls for children 0–5 increased 185 percent for marijuana life saving advice. Wong said THC-infused gummy bears look and smell like regular gummy bears, resulting in more exposures, ER visits, and hospitalizations. Arguments for legalization include: it will eliminate arrests for possession and sale of small amounts, thus, freeing law enforcement to arrest real criminals; it will reduce traffic fatalities, it will not get into the hands of youth or out of the state, and will add government revenue; plus, drug cartel profits will decrease. Wong showed data of marijuana related traffic fatalities spiking around 2009 and 2013. He said, “I'm not saying it is because of marijuana only; I'm saying this is a clue in my line of work.” 33 percent of impaired drivers involved in traffic fatalities, Wong added, were primarily abusing marijuana and driving. Also, he showed data from “The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey,” where all high school grades increased 8 percent in marijuana usage from 2013 to 2015, About 14 percent among Seniors, and 19 percent among Juniors. Wong said this translates to: one out of every three Juniors and Seniors uses marijuana. Also, 90 percent of seniors use marijuana in Colorado mountain towns. The Colorado Department of Education reported, 63 percent of all suspensions; 58 percent of all expulsions; and 73 percent of all referrals to law enforcement on school campuses are marijuana related. The Colorado School Resource Officers' Survey reported the number one violation at high schools is students under the influence of marijuana during school hours; and the number one source for students obtaining marijuana is from friends and family purchasing it legally. The Colorado Marijuana Interdiction Seizures (Incidents) year to year shows especially high spikes “coincidentally,” said Wong, around the legalization years 2009 and 2013. He added, now about 3.5 tons of “known” marijuana gets out of the state. Another social cost to C.O. tax payers is THC extraction Lab Explosions in homes and condos, thus, increasing home and rental property insurance. Wong said they are also seeing multiple fridge doors explode off hinges due to THC extraction. Other issues are: money laundering, prostitution rings being paid in marijuana; and hikers stumbling on armed individuals growing marijuana on federal lands, diverting natural water resources for their crop, and thus, killing wildlife. Wong said, $160 million dollars went to the Colorado general fund from marijuana — .5 percent of the over $24 billion dollar state budget. Finally, he concluded, “This legalization movement is not inevitable: you can stop this from ever occurring in your state or county.” He added, “Learn from our mistakes.” There has not been enough time, or means, Wong said, for analysis of the social cost of marijuana legalization.