Colorado Marijuana Legalization Proponents Lose Battle Over Deleted Text In State Voter Guide Book
The Huffington Post
On Wednesday, a Denver District Court judge dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol to reinsert key supportive arguments for Colorado's marijuana legalization ballot measure Amendment 64 in the state's voter guide. The Colorado Legislative Council had deleted the text in a hearing last week.
Judge Robert Hyatt dismissed the case because of a jurisdictional issue, not because of the merits of the campaign's case against the Colorado Legislative Council. But, either way, the "Arguments For" marijuana legalization will not appear in the state voter guide, known as the "blue book."
The campaign says that the "Arguments For" Amendment 64 section of of the blue book is now just 208 words following the deletion, whereas the "Arguments Against" section is approximately 366 words -- meaning "Against" has nearly 75 percent more words than the "For" section. "The blue book is supposed to be fair and balanced, and it's safe to say this is quite lopsided and, thus, unfair," the campaign said in a statement.
"This was not a loss for our campaign; this was a loss for the people of Colorado, who will not receive the fair and impartial election information promised to them by our state constitution," Mason Tvert, co-director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said in a statement. "No objective person would look at a 366- to 208 word-count disparity and consider it to be 'fair and impartial.'"
"This is just the latest example of government officials skewing information about marijuana and deceiving the public in order to maintain the wasteful policy of marijuana prohibition." Tvert said. "It started with Richard Nixon throwing out the Shafer Commission report, which declared marijuana relatively harmless, and launching the war on marijuana. And now it continues with the Colorado Legislative Council improperly deleting key information from a state voter guide."
Public dismay with the Legislative Council's actions has resulted in more than 4,000 new supporters joining the Yes on 64 campaign's email list in the past 24 hours, the campaign said in a press release about the dismissal of the court case.
To which Tvert added: "We are comforted by the fact that such egregious deception of the pubic will provide further momentum for our campaign. The public doesn't like being deceived and many voters may end up voting for Amendment 64 as a protest vote against a dishonest government."
In an op-ed, The Denver Post agreed with the Amendment 64 proponents, saying that the legislative committee "erred" in their blue book edits. Via The Denver Post:
There's no question that several of the most common arguments made on behalf of it have been edited from the blue book that goes to voters.Worse, the legislative committee that took out the language did so more or less by accident. At least six of its members didn't realize what was happening and later voted unsuccessfully to restore the language.
The blue book was scheduled to go to print Monday, but after a hearing Monday afternoon in Denver District Court, an attorney representing the state agreed to postpone the printing until after a Wednesday afternoon hearing could take place allowing both the Colorado Legislative Council and the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol to debate the language in the ballot book.
State law requires the blue book to include major arguments in suport of each state issue that will appear on the ballot, however the campaign says that the legislative committee unfairly deleted three of the proponents' key arguments in support of the initiative:
- Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol.
- The consequences of a marijuana offense are too severe.
- Law enforcement resources would be better spent on more serious crimes.
The campaign says that the modification was "improper" because it wasn't brought about by a "true" two-thirds majority vote -- a so-called supermajority -- which is required to make modifications.
Proponents of Amendment 64 also said that the modification was made in confusion and that the lawmakers did not intend to delete the lines. The campaign summarized the events in a statement:
Sen. Mark Scheffel made a motion to amend the first of three paragraphs in the "Arguments For" section of the blue book, and it was approved unanimously by the Council. A short time later, members realized the motion had deleted the last three sentences of the five-sentence paragraph, whereas they thought it would only remove a few words from the first two sentences. To rectify the mistake, Rep. Mark Ferrandino made a motion to reinsert the three sentences, and it was seconded by Rep. Lois Court. The Council voted 8-5 in support of the motion, but it failed because it did not receive the two-thirds vote required to modify the draft. As a result, the key arguments in support of Amendment 64 were deleted without true two-thirds support.
"I don't think he was trying to cause confusion," Rep. Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver) said to The Denver Post. "But it did cause confusion."
Colorado vote on marijuana could impact Obama-Romney race
Classic fox....what about Paul? -UA
Whether to legalize marijuana will be on the Colorado ballot in November. President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney have identical stances on pot legalization -- they oppose it. And neither is comfortable talking about it.
Yet Obama and Romney find themselves unwittingly ensnared in the legalization debate -- and both may want to take it more seriously if their race in Colorado is close.
With Colorado politically divided and home to a huge number of independent voters, Obama and Romney are devoting money and manpower to winning its nine electoral votes.
The November ballot question asking Coloradans to legalize marijuana cuts two ways for Obama. It could draw younger voters to the polls, boosting the president and down-ticket Democrats. It also highlights the Obama administration's conflicting signals on states that buck the federal marijuana ban.
Legalization activists are a small but passionate group, and there are signs that some who turned out in large numbers here to campaign for Obama in 2008 have soured on the president, in no small part because of dismal employment prospects for younger workers.
Obama ran into Colorado's roiling pot controversy in April, when he spoke at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He received thunderous cheers when he walked on stage, but when he started with an innocuous thanks to the university chancellor, many students booed. That's because a week before, the chancellor had shut down a large pro-marijuana protest on campus.
On a late-night television interview with Jimmy Fallon that aired the same night, Obama laughed off a question about marijuana legalization. "We're not going to be legalizing weed -- or what -- anytime soon," the president said.
Obama has conceded he used marijuana and cocaine while he was college-age and called their use "bad decisions." An Obama biography to be published this month from David Maraniss of The Washington Post says Obama used pot in high school too, smoking with basketball buddies in a group that called themselves the "Choom Gang."
Romney has never smoked pot or used illegal drugs, a campaign spokeswoman said, and he has called marijuana a "gateway drug." He recently stumbled into the marijuana debate when he visited an oil rig in northeast Colorado and was visibly taken aback when a Denver TV reporter asked him about marijuana.
"Aren't there issues of significance that you'd like to talk about?" Romney replied, his smile not hiding his annoyance.
Activists say the candidates are wrong to overlook the possible importance of marijuana on Colorado ballots.
"The cannabis supporters that I run into throughout the state are very active, they're enthused, they want to see change and they're willing to make it happen. And if I were the president, I'd really want that enthusiasm," said Boulder lawyer Lenny Frieling, chairman of the Colorado chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Frieling is a Democrat who supports Obama and donated to his campaign in 2008. But this time, Frieling says, he's sending his money to local candidates in Colorado and elsewhere who are firmly in the pro-legalization camp. He says he'll still vote for Obama -- but he's not giving him more money.
"Obama is just troubling, his switching positions," Frieling said.
That was a reference to a 2009 letter from Obama's attorney general stating that federal law enforcement would generally ignore marijuana users who comply with state pot laws. Yet, in 2012 alone, federal authorities have shut down more than 40 Colorado marijuana dispensaries, even though the dispensaries were complying with state and local law.
Another activist who organizes campaigns on local marijuana ballot questions in Colorado, James McVaney of Larkspur, says he and like-minded young activists support Obama but are less willing to volunteer for his campaign this year, focusing their energies on the marijuana initiative instead.
"I'm for legalization over Obama," McVaney said.
Colorado's past suggests that in extremely close contests, Democrats could benefit when pot is on the ballot.
In 2006, voters overwhelmingly rejected pot legalization. But in the same election, Democrat Bill Ritter was elected after eight years of Republican rule in the governor's office, and a couple of narrow victories for Democrats to the state Legislature coincided with areas where pot activists registered dozens of young voters.
Washington and other states may see marijuana legalization on ballots this fall, but no other state considered a presidential battleground is likely to.
Company wants to take its edible marijuana national
The Denver-based firm specializes in the production and distribution of food, beverages and other products infused with the active ingredient of marijuana.
Led by its flagship line of THC-laced sparkling beverages, items also include chocolate truffles, crispy rice treats, fruit lozenges, capsules and droplets. The company's target market is registered medical-marijuana patients who prefer, for health or social reasons, to ingest their drug without smoking.
"If I needed to medicate, I would never consider lighting up in front of my 11-year-old daughter," said Dixie owner and managing director Tripp Keber. "A 70-year-old grandmother with glaucoma (might) never consider smoking but will put a couple of drops of elixir in her soup."
THC-infused edible products now constitute about 38 percent of total sales at dispensaries in Colorado, compared with 12 percent two years ago, according to estimates from Keber that are based on conversations with retailers.
Dixie sells products to 450 of Colorado's 593 medical-marijuana dispensaries.
Colorado law allows local manufacturers to distribute THC-infused items only within the state. But Dixie, already among the largest of Colorado's infused-product
makers, is staking out a share of the national medical-marijuana market through a licensing deal that will enable its branded products to be made and sold in other states.Publicly traded Medical Marijuana Inc. last month paid $1.45 million to acquire Dixie's intellectual property, formulas and recipes. The two companies have created a third, Red Dice Holdings, to license and market Dixie's brand and products in other states.
The firm expects to be selling in Arizona, California and Washington, D.C., before the end of the year.
Consulting firm See Change Strategy LLC said in a recent report that national medical-marijuana sales of $1.7 billion in 2011 could grow to $8.9 billion in five years. California and Colorado account for 92 percent of the current market. California leads the nation, with sales of $1.3 billion, according to the report.
Analysts say delivery of medical marijuana through edible and drinkable products is likely to increase in coming years, in part from a growing number of older patients who never have smoked marijuana recreationally.
"For a patient coming in who has never used marijuana before, they might be very open to that kind of (edible) delivery mechanism," said Robert Frichtel, managing partner of Medical Marijuana Business Exchange, a Teller County-based consulting firm. "There are a significant portion of people using marijuana for medical reasons where it's not desirable for them to smoke it."
Dixie employs 22 workers, where it makes edible products from THC kept in a secured vault.
The privately owned firm does not disclose financial information, but Keber said sales have increased 22 percent year-to-date in 2012 compared with last year.
Keber's business background includes a stint as chief operating officer of Bella Terra Realty Holdings, a firm that operates high-end recreational-vehicle parks.
In 2009 he made a loan to Dixie's original operators. A year later, he took control of the business and sought to expand its reach.
Dispensary owner Max Cohen said most of his customers buy smokable marijuana, but the edible segment is growing.
"The majority of our patients still prefer the (marijuana) flowers to smoke," said Cohen, owner of The Clinic, which operates six dispensaries in metro Denver. "But there are some people who don't like to smoke, and it's easier for them to consume edibles."
Colorado House Passes Bill on Marijuana DUIs
The bill setting a blood standard for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, will be debated later in the day in the Senate, where a Republican senator who changed her vote to support the measure earlier this year was absent. A vote was likely Wednesday.
The missing vote could mean another defeat for the proposal to make Colorado the third state with a blood-level limit for marijuana, much as the nation has a blood-alcohol limit of .08.
Seventeen states have some sort of blood limit for drugged driving convictions, including drugs other than marijuana.
The proposal before Colorado lawmakers would limit THC to 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. Driving under the influence of marijuana is already illegal, but convictions rely on officer observation as well as a blood test.
Colorado's so-called "D-U-High" bill would make it simpler to convict drivers with a blood THC level at 5 nanograms or higher.
"Quite frankly, we are at a doped driving epidemic," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Steve King, R-Mesa County. He has argued that the proliferation of medical marijuana has led to a dangerous increase in drugged driving.
Marijuana activists are fighting the proposal because they say blood THC tests are an unfair gauge of impairment. Because the body processes marijuana differently than alcohol, they say, a clear blood limit could endanger marijuana patients who aren't impaired.
Marijuana activists also argue that marijuana-related convictions are up in Colorado because more police officers are trained to look for stoned drivers, not because there's an epidemic.
Colorado lawmakers have considered marijuana DUI bills before but failed to agree.
A similar bill failed last year by a single vote in the Senate, and another version died last week when the regular session concluded.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper added drugged driving to a list of measures he asked lawmakers to consider in the special legislative session expected to end Wednesday.
Voters in Washington state will consider a 5 nanogram THC driving limit this fall on a ballot measure about marijuana legalization.
Medical marijuana community up in arms over Roach comments
By Scot Kersgaard coloradoindependant.com
Declaring that marijuana has no known medical value, The DEA’s new regional chief Barbra Roach has also let it be known that she would find a place to live that does not allow medical marijuana businesses. It is not surprising that in Colorado, where voters have approved medical marijuana, some find her comments to be more than a little offensive.
“By federal law, marijuana is illegal,” she told the Denver Post. “There is no medical proof it has any benefit.”
Roach told the Post that marijuana is illegal despite state law that legalizes it for medical use. She has not returned a call seeking further comment.
It is well documented by now that Colorado U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a longtime proponent of drug reform took immediate and impassioned exception to Roach’s comments.
From Polis’s Facebook page:
She concludes that her goal is to “focus on dismantling the “top echelon” of drug organizations.” And “to strive for the large drug trafficking organizations – not just domestically, but internationally.”
On this, I wish her well. Ironically, Colorado’s legalized and regulated marijuana industry has probably done more damage to large drug trafficking organizations than her work will ever accomplish, but I certainly wish her well in her efforts unless she starts raiding legal Colorado businesses who are abiding by our laws.
Polis is not the only person in Colorado a little miffed that the Drug Enforcement Administration would promote someone to run the DEA’s operation in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Utah who is openly hostile to medical marijuana.
“Kudos to Rep. Polis for highlighting and responding to DEA Agent Roach’s silly comments about marijuana and derision of communities throughout Colorado,” said Mason Tvert, one of the leaders of efforts to legalize marijuana in Colorado. “Polling shows a majority of Colorado voters believe it is time to end marijuana prohibition, and this November they will have the opportunity to do just that. As a recent transplant to Colorado, I hope Agent Roach will respect our state’s ongoing discussion about the benefits of regulating marijuana like alcohol and refrain from using her government job to interfere with the debate.”
“Medical marijuana has saved my son’s life,”Shan Moore told The Colorado Independent. Moore’s son, Chaz Moore, also known as Bill Smith, has a rare neurological disorder that causes upper body spasms. The teenager missed about a year of school, much of it spent in hospitals, before the family reluctantly agreed with a physician recommendation that they try medical marijuana, which they credit with reducing the frequency, duration and intensity of the attacks.“Medical marijuana saved Cash Hyde’s life. It saves people’s lives. Period,” said Moore. “I challenge Roach and (U.S. Attorney) John Walsh to a debate on the medical value of marijuana,” he said.
Cash Hyde is a young Montana boy whose parents have given him cannabis oil to fight a brain tumor and to help combat the effects of chemotherapy. They credit the cannabis with keeping Cash alive. While the tumor returned after our original story was published, family friends told the Independent Cash’s cancer is again in remission, a fact confirmed by the “>Hyde family website. We did not talk to the family for this story.
As noted in the above video, few medical doctors are willing to talk about treating kids as young as Cash Hyde with cannabis. Here, we interview Hyde’s doctor, who says he has no doubt about the treatment.
“I’d like to ask them why they are trying to kill my kid,” Moore said. He said he worries that if medical marijuana dispensaries are shut down, he or Chaz–who turns 18 soon–will have to buy marijuana from street dealers.
“I worry about that. I know what I was like at 18, and I worry what will happen if dealers try to sell him meth or ecstasy along with the marijuana he needs. I worry about what else might be in the marijuana,” Moore said.
He said he also worries about the legal prescription drugs that Chaz used to take to control his seizures, many of which were so debilitating that Moore had to be hospitalized while on the drugs.“Every 19 minutes someone dies from a prescription drug overdose. Why are they trying to put my son in harm’s way?” he asks. In fact, prescription drug overdoes are a rising cause of death in the U.S. and around the world, but finding an exact number of how many people are killed each year is difficult.
“They (Walsh and Roach) say they are trying to save children, but that is what I’m trying to do. When they shut down dispensaries, they send families like our to the Mexican cartels, where you don’t know what the product will be laced with. It scares the hell out of me. I don’t want to have to go to drug dealers for the medicine my family needs. Dispensaries don’t push meth or cocaine on my kid, but the drug dealers will,” Moore declared.
“This is just part of the DEA’s new approach,” said Jim Gingery, executive director of the Montana Medical Growers Association. “Are these people serious? I’m concerned that we have anyone in public office who is not up on the current research.”
The Colorado Independent reported earlier this year that the DEA was investigating Montana Legislator Diane Sands in connection with a drug trafficking case. Sands surmises the investigation is because of her support of the state’s medical marijuana laws.
“Nothing will change until President Obama says so,” said a spokesperson for Colorado’s Legalize2012 campaign, which is seeking to make marijuana completely legal in Colorado and is not to be confused with the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative. “This doesn’t bode well for Colorado. Of course marijuana has medical value–there is 10,000 years of history with marijuana as medicine.”
Even the National Cancer Institute has acknowledged the value of cannabis in treating cancer. The NCI has since removed this information from its website.
Here, local attorney Kristy Martinez talks about her battle with cancer–and the role cannabis played in her fight for survival.
Health: Marijuana and students
Two youths walk through Acacia Park Monday, Jan. 9, 2012 in Colorado Springs near Palmer High School. Students interviewed in the park said they believe smoking marijuana is not harmful and actually beneficial in several ways. New research shows adolescence is a crucial time for brain development and marijuana use can permanently change the teen brain. Also, young people who start using marijuana before age 18 are much more likely than adults to become addicted to the drug, research shows. (JOE MAHONEY/THE I-NEWS NETWORK)
By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
Health Policy Solutions
He’s 16 but his baby face makes him look a little older than 10, his age when he first tried marijuana.
“I smoke marijuana every single day all day long,” the teen said during a lunch period spent hanging out at Acacia Park outside his downtown Colorado Springs high school.
“It develops brain cells. That is a complete and true fact,” he said. “It kills weak brain cells. It does affect your lungs … but it’s better than smoking cigarettes.”
Dozens of students interviewed across Colorado as part of an investigation by Education News Colorado, Solutions and the I-News Network made similar statements:
IN HIS OWN WORDS:Audio of a 16-year-old’s views on marijuana.
Marijuana is healthy. It helps me focus in class. And, hey, it’s better than alcohol or cigarettes.
“It’s less damaging to smoke weed,” said a 15-year-old girl getting high over lunch near her Denver high school. “I’m not trying to mess with my body.”
The investigation found a 45 percent increase in drug violations reported by schools statewide in the past four years, even as violations in nearly every other category – including alcohol and tobacco use – declined.
School officials and health care workers repeatedly cited the location of medical marijuana dispensaries near schools and the saturation of marijuana in surrounding communities.
They say Colorado’s thriving cannabis industry and its advertising —online and on storefronts at more than 700 dispensaries — have emboldened young people to justify abuse and claim health benefits from marijuana.
But contrary to perceptions among students, doctors say marijuana is especially harmful to kids for two key reasons:
First, new research shows adolescence is a crucial time for brain development and marijuana use can permanently change the teen brain. Second, young people who start using marijuana before age 18 are much more likely than adults to become addicted to the drug.
“It’s an ironic play of events that use is going up at the same time that the science is coming out about its possible brain toxicity,” said Dr. Chris Thurstone, an adolescent psychiatrist who runs a substance abuse treatment program at Denver Health.
“We need to tell people that youth are the most likely to become addicted to marijuana and that when they become addicted, they are at higher risk for every bad outcome a teenager can face.”
Doctors interviewed across the spectrum, from vocal marijuana opponents to those who recommend it for patients, agreed that marijuana can be addictive. And the diagnostic bible for health providers, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, lists cannabis abuse and cannabis dependence as possible diagnoses.
“There is no debate in the scientific community,” Thurstone said.
“It’s physically and mentally addictive.”
Dr. Christian Thurstone, left, an adolescent psychiatrist, gives instruction to a patient, who requested not to be identified, about a prescription at Denver Health's STEP Program office on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012 in Denver. Thurstone warns that new research shows that marijuana has a greater toxic effect on a youth's brain at a time when data suggests a rise of use among teens and young adults. (JOE MAHONEY/THE I-NEWS NETWORK)
Research grim for young cannabis users
Few teens heed such warnings, however. While adolescents have always been impulsive thrill seekers, Thurstone and other researchers have found that all the most dangerous behaviors escalate when teens use marijuana.
It’s no different than when they use alcohol or other drugs.
The more often teens use and the greater the dose, the more reckless their behavior becomes. So regular marijuana use puts them at greater risk for dropping out of school, engaging in risky sex behaviors and getting in accidents, the leading cause of death for adolescents.
Research paints a grim picture for marijuana users who start at a young age:
- Teens using marijuana before age 18 are two to four times more likely to develop psychosis as young adults compared to those who do not.
- The teen brain is much more vulnerable to addiction. One in 6 kids who try marijuana before age 18 will either abuse it or become addicted to it compared with 1 in 25 adults.
- Studies show that heavy doses of THC, the key chemical in marijuana, during adolescence change the way the brain develops. In particular, marijuana’s harmful effects strike the hippocampus, which is critical for learning and memory.
“We know that adolescents who start using marijuana between the ages of 14 and 22 – and stop by 22 – have many more cognitive deficits at age 27 compared to non-using peers,” said Dr. Paula Riggs, director of the Division of Substance Dependence in the psychiatry department at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
“It affects brain processing, decision-making, impulsivity and memory,”
Riggs said there’s little question among doctors that marijuana can be beneficial for a small percentage of patients who have cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma or nausea from HIV treatment.
But that doesn’t mean it’s safe or healthy for kids.
“There’s no medical indication for medical marijuana in young people at all,” she said. “It’s not a medication. There are 400 other chemicals and many carcinogens in smoked marijuana.”
The revolution in brain science has only increased concerns about harm to the teen brain.
Experts used to think that the brain was fully formed by about age 6.
But new brain scan research has found that nerve cells don’t finish developing until young people reach their mid-20s. Teen brain cells don’t have as much of a fatty coating called myelin which helps messages travel from neuron to neuron efficiently. The brain also sheds unnecessary connections during adolescence.
It turns out that one of the last parts of the brain to fully mature is the prefrontal cortex, which governs complex decision-making and analysis.
“In other words, the adolescent brain craves pleasure, but it doesn’t know how to weigh risks, determine and plan for consequences or say ‘enough is enough,’” said Thurstone, who is conducting a five-year study on medical marijuana in Colorado for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Debating a rise in marijuana use among teens
Blaming marijuana for increasing risky teen behavior is a leap, said Dan Rees, an economics professor at the University of Colorado Denver.
“It turns out that kids who use marijuana also drink alcohol and get in car accidents and have sex without condoms. It’s impossible to distinguish the effect of the marijuana and the effect of personalities,” said Rees, who has been studying the impacts of marijuana legalization throughout the United States.
He’s not surprised if young people are now getting medical marijuana rather than street weed. But he’s not convinced that overall use is up among kids or that marijuana is any more dangerous than other drugs that kids abuse.
A student from Palmer High School, who declined to be identified, during his lunch break at Acacia Park near Palmer in Colorado Springs on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012 said he uses marijuana regularly Behind him is the Indispensary, one of 23 medical marijuana dispensaries located within 1,000 feet of a school and last month were ordered to close by the U.S. Attorney for Colorado. (JOE MAHONEY/I-NEWS NETWORK)
Several studies show that alcohol use declines when marijuana use increases. One of Rees’ studies found that traffic fatalities went down by nine percent in 13 states, including Colorado, that have legalized medical marijuana. The researchers don’t know why. It’s possible that people drive more when they’re drunk than stoned.
The study used data through 2009, just as dispensaries began spreading across Colorado. So it’s unclear how the boom in dispensaries has affected marijuana use or driving here.
Another study by Rees shows that, in states that have legalized medical marijuana, use increases dramatically among young adults. But that did not hold true for those under 18.
Rees described the finding as “puzzling.” The study, which is not yet published, also used data through 2009.
“My strong suspicion is that there’s diversion from the legal market to the illegal market. The fact that kids are ending up with marijuana that was originally intended for the legal market doesn’t surprise me,” he said.
“There’s just no evidence that medical marijuana affected the percent of youth who said they smoked marijuana in the last month.”
Surveys in Colorado and nationally, however, appear to indicate marijuana use is rising.
In Colorado, a survey of more than 27,000 students through the Adams County Youth Initiative found a jump in use. In 2008, 19 percent of students in various Adams County middle and high schools said they had used marijuana in the last month. That number increased to 22 percent in 2009 and 30 percent in 2010.
And the Monitoring the Future study, the largest national survey of students and drug use, found in 2011 that marijuana use has risen for the fourth straight year after consistent declines in the past decade. The study also found one in 15 high school seniors now uses marijuana daily. That marked a 30-year peak for daily use, a finding that sparked great concern for Riggs.
“People will say, ‘I smoked in the ‘60s and I didn’t become addicted,’” she said. But, “Adolescents who are daily users are at much higher risk for becoming dependent. And the marijuana, by and large, is more potent today.”
State-by-state data for marijuana use should be available for the first time in the next couple of years. Riggs said that information will be critical because, unlike Rees, she suspects access to marijuana in the 16 states that have legalized it may be driving the increased use found in national survey results.
Here in Colorado, teens that Riggs sees through her clinical trials often repeat claims such as marijuana helps them “focus.” When she probes further, she finds their grades are going down.
“What they mean is ‘I’m totally lost. I can tolerate sitting there lost (in class),’” Riggs said. “It’s zoning them out.”
“They often come in and say, ‘It’s not addictive. It’s natural. It’s an herb.’ But you wouldn’t go out and pick poisonous mushrooms, would you?”
Recreational pot for teens ‘absolutely’ not healthy
Dr. Alan Shackelford recommends marijuana to some of his patients and advises lawmakers around the country on medical marijuana legislation. He maintains a business and website, Amarimed of Colorado, devoted to medical marijuana.
In very rare cases, Shackelford said he has recommended marijuana for children, including a toddler who was dying of a brain tumor.
“Her oncologist at Children’s was in complete agreement. We know that cannabis makes opiates much more effective. Judicious cannabis use allowed the parents to decrease the amounts of morphine and also got rid of horrific pain,” Shackelford said.
Recommending marijuana to some patients, however, and endorsing recreational use among kids is not the same thing.
“Do I think kids ought to say that it’s healthy and use it recreationally? Absolutely, I do not,” Shackelford said.
But he believes a narrow focus on marijuana abuse among kids distracts from the more harmful effects of other drugs they’re using, including tobacco, alcohol and prescription medications.
“Cannabis is much safer than those things,” Shackelford said. “I’m not demonizing alcohol or opiate prescription medications. Used correctly, alcohol can be no more lethal than Percocet. But both have the potential to kill people.”
Shackelford says marijuana is a valuable tool for some patients. He has found it particularly helpful for patients with migraines and elderly patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
He never recommends that patients smoke it and declines to say how many recommendations he gives per year for medical marijuana or what percentage of his patients seek it.
And he has a message for young people who claim marijuana is healthy.
“Don’t kid yourselves. Don’t use terms to rationalize something when we don’t know what the consequences are,” he said.
“It’s certainly not healthy like eating an apple and probably not healthy in teenagers, not in someone who is still developing.”
The same applies to abuse of Ritalin, Percocet, alcohol or methamphetamine, all of which Shackelford views as much more dangerous.
While debate is fierce over the relative harm of various drugs, Thurstone said the No. 1 drug his patients are abusing is marijuana. He has treated patients as young as 11 for its use.
Nationally, in substance abuse treatment programs, two-thirds of patients are dealing with marijuana abuse or dependence. At Thurstone’s Denver Health program, the figure is 95 percent.
“Many lives are being destroyed by this,” Thurstone said. “(Teens) are dropping out of life. They’re dropping out of school or if they’re not, they’re doing really badly.
“They’ve dropped away from their family, their friends and their sports to smoke marijuana every day, all day. We see that all the time.”
Marijuana advocates protest outside Lakewood Obama office
A handful of marijuana reform advocates gathered on a sidewalk outside an Obama campaign office in Lakewood Thursday morning to draw attention to what they characterized as the Obama Administration’s aggressive use of federal law to interfere with the rights of medical marijuana businesses and patients in Colorado and elsewhere.
“Under Obama’s watch, staff members have been getting aggressive. We’re here to let patients know about the aggressive tactics of the Obama Administration,” said attorney Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado.
Vicente said that when he was campaigning for president, Obama pledged to leave medical marijuana issues up to individual states but that since winning election the Department of Justice has been working to close dispensaries in Colorado and elsewhere.
“We’re just asking Obama to respect his campaign pledges,” said Vincent Palazzotto, executive director of the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America.
Vicente emphasized that he didn’t necessarily expect the eventual Republican nominee to be any better on this issue than Obama, though he noted that Ron Paul is an advocate of state’s rights on marijuana.“We just want people to be aware of what he has done. We want Obama to live up to his promises,” Vicente said.
The Obama campaign’s Colorado press secretary declined comment.
Vicente and others at the street-side gathering were particularly incensed about recent DOJ letters to 23 Colorado dispensaries that are operating legally under Colorado law, but which the federal government has determined are located too close to educational facilities. Dispensary owners were told to close or face the consequences.
Vicente and Palazzotto used the press conference to announce the launch of the Patient Voter Project, a joint effort of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Sensible Colorado, Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America (MMAPA) and Just Say Now.
Vicente said the mission of the Patient Voter Project is to shine a light on the Obama administration’s behavior in the state and to keep medical marijuana patients and others up-to-date about the latest “hostile actions” being carried out by the administration.
“Our goal is simple,” said Vicente. “We want the Obama administration to end its attacks on legitimate and legal providers of medical marijuana and to trust the state of Colorado to regulate the industry in a thorough and competent manner, as it has done already. The people of this state, and especially medical marijuana patients, support the state-regulated medical marijuana system. They have no desire to have the medical marijuana market driven back underground. If the Obama administration prefers that medical marijuana be sold underground, it is our duty to explain that to the people of this state.”
“What the Obama administration is doing is wrong,” added Palazzotto. “As an organization dedicated to serving the needs of patients, we feel it is our responsibility to make the public aware of these unjust and unnecessary actions. Patients, and those who support them, need to know which elected officials are on their side and which ones are trying to deny patients safe access to their medicine.”
“Having had AIDS for almost twenty years, I’ve had more than my share of troubles and uncertainties,” said Damien LaGoy, a medical marijuana patient. “Now with President Obama’s recent efforts to shut down medical marijuana stores in Colorado, I have to live with the uncertainty of not knowing where — or if — I’ll be able to get my doctor-recommended medicine in the future. We need President Obama to respect Colorado voters and stop shutting down state-licenced medical marijuana stores in our state.”
LaGoy told the Colorado Independent that because of medical marijuana he has been able to gain weight and become healthier. He said the dispensary closed to where he lives is one of those targeted by the DOJ for closure.
Wanda James, a medical marijuana business owner, was not able to attend the press conference, but provided the following statement: “In 2008, I served on Barack Obama’s Colorado finance team and helped raise over $100,000 for his presidential bid. I now feel deceived by President Obama’s backpedaling on medical marijuana. The aggressive actions by his US Attorney in Colorado shows a great disrespect for our state’s voters, who both support medical marijuana and helped President Obama get elected.”
Also on Thursday, proponents of a statewide initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol said they have collected more than 12,000 additional signatures to cure its petition to place a measure on the November ballot. Just over 2,400 additional valid signatures are needed.
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler determined earlier this year that the group had not collected enough signature to make it on to the ballot in November.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will deliver the new petitions to the Secretary of State’s office Friday, and will first hold a news conference at which former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson will endorse the initiative and discuss why he supports ending marijuana prohibition and regulating it like alcohol.
Marijuana dispensaries brace for crackdown
Aspen operator: ‘Yeah, it's a little nerve-racking'
The Aspen Times
ASPEN — Area medical marijuana providers admit they're a bit unnerved by last week's reports that federal authorities may crack down on the industry in Colorado next year, but operators say they're striving to strictly comply with state regulations while they wait and see what happens next.
A law-enforcement official told The Associated Press last week that enforcement action is under consideration for Colorado early next year despite state laws that regulate and tax the industry — moves that marijuana advocates hoped would spare the state from the kind of crackdown that occurred in California. There, dozens of medical marijuana businesses, landlords leasing property to growers, and retailers selling medicinal pot over the counter were targeted in Drug Enforcement Administration raids.
“It's certainly a lot more risky business than I intended to get into,” said the owner of Aspen Roaring Fork Wellness near Basalt, who asked not to be named. “Yes, I'm worried, but I have confidence we're going to be OK.
“In the state of Colorado, we've been regulated a lot more than in other states. I think they're going to leave most of us alone as long as we're complying with state law.”
Aspen Roaring Fork Wellness first opened in the Aspen Business Center before relocating to a location outside of Basalt early this year. It's one of a handful of medical marijuana businesses that operate in unincorporated Pitkin County and complies only with state laws. The county declined to regulate medical marijuana at the advice of county attorney John Ely.
Regulations had been drawn up and were ready for formal review when he advised county commissioners to drop the whole thing last summer.
“I don't think the county should be in the position of abetting the violation of federal law,” Ely told commissioners in June, when they subsequently voted to reject the proposed rules. Ely was scheduled to update commissioners on the state's medical marijuana regulations behind closed doors last week; the conversation is now scheduled Tuesday instead. He said he wants to update commissioners on the status of state law but isn't advocating any change in the county's course of action.
Last summer, he advised commissioners that the county should not ask its employees to issue licenses to marijuana businesses and enforce zoning laws related to medical marijuana because it puts them in a position of potential criminal liability.
Operators themselves, however, remain caught in the quandary of engaging in a business that violates federal law but is permitted under state law. There are 667 retail shops, or dispensaries, 926 cultivation operations and 246 infused-product manufacturers operating under Colorado law, according to figures from the state Revenue Department. The state is one of 16, plus the District of Columbia, that have passed laws legalizing marijuana for medical use.
“Yeah, it's a little nerve-racking,” Billy Miller, a partner in L.E.A.F., said of the potential federal crackdown in Colorado. L.E.A.F. was one of the first Aspen dispensaries to open when the industry exploded in Colorado in 2009. Its parent company also operates two growing facilities, both located in unincorporated Garfield County.
L.E.A.F. was recently inspected by a state official with the Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division in a routine check for compliance, Miller said. Operators face daunting paperwork and filing requirements.
“There's quite a bit of administrative work to the business right now,” he said.
Lauren Maytin, an Aspen attorney who advises more than a dozen marijuana businesses in the Roaring Fork Valley as well as others around the state, believes the feds will target blatant violators, not operators who are working diligently to follow the letter of Colorado law.
“You're within 1,000 feet of a school, you're in trouble,” she said. Large-scale growers could also draw scrutiny, she predicted.
“Quite frankly, they could come in and arrest everybody,” Maytin said. “If they're not going to do that, then they're looking for something.”