Pubdate: Sun, 01 Jun 2014
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)
Copyright: 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Author: Jack Healy, New York Times
Page: A4


Deaths, ER Visits Linked to Weed, but Scant Hard Data.

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

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

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

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.

"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."
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