Pubdate: Sun, 01 Jun 2014
Source: Day, The (New London,CT)
Copyright: 2014 The Day Publishing Co.
Author: Jack Healy, New York Times News Service
Page: A1


Marijuana Laws Loosened in State Five Months Ago

Denver - Five months after Colorado became the first state to allow 
recreational marijuana sales, the battle over legalization is still raging.

Law enforcement officers in Colorado and neighboring states, 
emergency room doctors and legalization opponents increasingly are 
highlighting a series of recent problems as cautionary lessons for 
other states flirting with loosening marijuana laws.

There is the Denver man who, hours after buying a package of 
marijuana-infused Karma Kandy from one of Colorado's new recreational 
marijuana shops, began raving about the end of the world and then 
pulled a handgun from the family safe and killed his wife, the 
authorities say. Some hospital officials say they are treating 
growing numbers of children and adults sickened by potent doses of 
edible marijuana. Sheriffs in neighboring states complain about 
stoned drivers streaming out of Colorado and through their towns.

"I think, by any measure, the experience of Colorado has not been a 
good one unless you're in the marijuana business," said Kevin A. 
Sabet, executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which 
opposes legalization. "We've seen lives damaged. We've seen deaths 
directly attributed to marijuana legalization. We've seen marijuana 
slipping through Colorado's borders. We've seen marijuana getting 
into the hands of kids."

Despite such anecdotes, there is scant hard data. Because of the lag 
in reporting many health statistics, it may take years to know legal 
marijuana's effect - if any - on teenage drug use, school expulsions 
or the number of fatal car crashes.

It was only in January, for example, that the Colorado State Patrol 
began tracking the number of people pulled over for driving while 
stoned. Since then, marijuana-impaired drivers have made up about 1.5 
percent of all citations for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Proponents of legalization argue that the critics are cherry-picking 
anecdotes to tarnish a young industry that has been flourishing under 
intense scrutiny.

The vast majority of the state's medical and recreational marijuana 
stores are living up to stringent state rules, they say. The stores 
have sold marijuana to hundreds of thousands of customers without 
incident. The industry has generated $12.6 million in taxes and fees 
so far, though the revenues have not matched some early projections.

Marijuana supporters note that violent crimes in Denver - where the 
bulk of Colorado's pot retailers are - are down so far this year. The 
number of robberies from January through April fell by 4.8 percent 
from the same time in 2013, and assaults were down by 3.7 percent. 
Overall, crime in Denver is down by about 10 percent, though it is 
impossible to say whether changes to marijuana laws played any role 
in that decline.

'The sky did not fall'

"Every major institution said this would be horrible and lead to 
violence and blood in the streets," said Brian Vicente, one of the 
authors of Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana in Colorado. "None 
of that's happened. The sky did not fall."

The argument is being waged with fervor because both sides say 
Colorado's successes and failures with regulating marijuana will 
shape perceptions of legalization for voters considering similar 
measures in other states and for leery federal law enforcement 
officials. After the 2012 legalization votes in Colorado and 
Washington state - where recreational sales are expected to begin 
this summer - Justice Department officials gave the states a cautious 
green light. But they warned that they might intervene if marijuana 
ended up fueling violence or drug trafficking, or flowing across 
state lines or into the hands of children.

Marijuana opponents like Thomas J. Gorman of the Rocky Mountain High 
Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which helps law enforcement 
combat drug trafficking, say Colorado is already falling short of 
those standards.

"In any other state, if they were making as much money and growing as 
much dope, they'd be taken out by the feds," Gorman said.

Few agree on how much legally purchased marijuana is being secreted 
out of Colorado. Michele Leonhart, the head of the Drug Enforcement 
Administration, told a Senate panel in April that officials in Kansas 
had tallied a 61 percent increase in seizures of marijuana that could 
be traced to Colorado. But according to the Kansas Highway Patrol, 
total marijuana seizures fell to 1,090 pounds from 2,790 pounds 
during the first four months of the year, a 61 percent decline.

Some sheriffs and police chiefs along Colorado's borders say they 
have noticed little change. But in Colby, Kan., which sits along an 
interstate highway running west to Colorado, Police Chief Ron 
Alexander said charges for sale, distribution or possession related 
to marijuana were rising fast. This year, he tallied 20 such cases 
through May 23. Two years ago, there were six during that same time period.

Sheriff Adam Hayward of Deuel County, Neb., said he was locking up 
more people for marijuana-related offenses. "It's kind of a 
free-forall," he said. "The state or the federal government needs to 
step up and do something."

Edible marijuana limits?

Many of Colorado's starkest problems with legal marijuana stem from 
pot-infused cookies, chocolates and other surprisingly potent edible treats.

On Colorado's northern plains, for example, a fourth-grader showed up 
on the playground one day in April and sold some of his grandmother's 
marijuana to three classmates. The next day, one of those students 
returned the favor by bringing in a marijuana edible he had swiped 
from his own grandmother.

"This was kind of an unintended consequence of Colorado's new law," 
said John Gates, the district's director of school safety and 
security. "For crying out loud, secure your weed. If you can legally 
possess it, that's fine. But it has no place in an elementary school."

Even supporters of legalization such as Vicente say Colorado needs to 
pass stricter rules about edible marijuana. He said the state was 
racing up a sharp learning curve.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom