DENVER – A recent report shows that traffic deaths, crime, emergency room visits and youth usage of marijuana increased significantly in the first two years following the legalization of recreational pot in the state of Colorado.
Released by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in September of 2016, the report compared marijuana-related statistics from previous years in Colorado to data from 2013-2015, the first years after the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state in November 2012.
The results aren’t promising.
Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 62 percent in 2013, the first year of legalization of recreational marijuana. About one in five more youth are now reporting having used marijuana in the past month since its legalization. Marijuana-related hospitalizations in the state nearly doubled from 6,305 in 2011 to 11,439 in 2014.
“Perhaps there is not much value in saying to my beloved state of Colorado that ‘I told you so,’ but these results were entirely predictable,” said Dr. E. Christian Brugger, professor of Moral Theology at Denver’s St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.
Brugger has spoken and written about the moral questions surrounding the legalization of marijuana several times over the years, as his home state of Colorado has been central to the debate over the drug that has now spread to many other states.
“If there had been any sincere effort on the part of Colorado citizens and legislators to gauge in advance the harms that would arise from legalization, they would have foreseen precisely (these results),” he told CNA in e-mail comments.
The biggest health concern for young people using marijuana is its harmful effect on the brain, which continues its development well into a person’s 20s.
The main active ingredient in marijuana, THC, binds to receptors in the brain and can cause a significant decrease in IQ over time. A 2012 study published in the National Academy of Sciences found that adolescent exposure to marijuana can lead to an 8-point drop in IQ, on par with the drop seen in children exposed to lead.
Another troubling impact is the relationship between adolescent marijuana use and schizophrenia. A study repeated by multiple research groups has found that adolescent marijuana use can quadruple a teen’s risk of developing schizophrenia.
Marijuana can also be addictive, with one in six adolescent users developing a dependence over time.
A secondary health concern is traffic accidents, which make up the leading cause of death in 15-20 year-olds.
According to the report, in 2009, marijuana-related traffic deaths involving operators testing positive for marijuana represented 10 percent of all traffic fatalities in Colorado. By 2015, that number doubled to 21 percent. The amount of youth reporting marijuana use after legalization, compared to before, increased by about 20 percent. College-age Coloradans now rank first in the nation for marijuana use.
Crime has also increased in Denver and Colorado as a whole in the post-legalization years.
“Since 2014, there has been a notable increase in organized networks of sophisticated residential grows in Colorado that are orchestrated and operated by drug trafficking organizations. These organizations currently operate hundreds of large-scale home grows throughout Colorado. Harvested marijuana is shipped or transported out of Colorado to markets in the Midwest and East Coast. Home grows have significantly increased illicit production of marijuana in Colorado,” the report states.
And while marijuana has often been touted as an economy booster, the report shows that Colorado may be losing business from conventions that are no longer hosted in the state due to concerns about marijuana.
According to the report, 49 percent of meeting planners expressed concerns about marijuana when considering holding an event in Denver. VISIT DENVER, the marketing organization for the city, found that Denver’s reputation as a clean and safe city where organizations can host events and conventions has decreased since the legalization of marijuana.
“The legalization initiative was never based upon a rational assessment of whether legalization would be good for our communities, it was driven by money and rotten politics,” Brugger said.
“And mark my word, those numbers will go up, not down, in the next years.” What’s the solution? “Re-criminalization of the possession and smoking of marijuana in Colorado,” he says.
Tom Gorman, Director of Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which released the report, also believes that the negative impact will only increase overtime.
“Any time you legalize a substance, you’re going to have more people using. The more people you have using, the more adverse (effects) you’re going to have on society, as well as the individual,” he told CNA.
“Alcohol is a perfect example of that, because so many people use and abuse alcohol. We almost have as many people addicted to alcohol as all the illegal drugs combined. We can expect the same thing from marijuana, although with alcohol you don’t necessarily drink and get drunk. With marijuana, you smoke to get (high).”