Pubdate: Mon, 07 Jul 2014
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2014 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Josh Richman
Page: A1


California Learns From Rocky Mountain State's Progress As It Prepares
for Legalization Try

Long a leader in making marijuana mainstream, California is watching
Colorado blaze a trail for legalized recreational pot with avid eyes.

The mood in Colorado, while not uniformly a Rocky Mountain high, is
good. Six months in, few of the predicted problems have materialized,
tax revenue and tourism are booming, and public support for legal pot
appears to be growing.

Voters approved legalization in 2012 by a margin of 10 percent, but a
March poll found Colorado voters now favor it by a 22-point margin.
And 61 percent believe it has made the state better or not changed it.
Another poll in April found that most people believe it's been good
for the state, hasn't made driving less safe and will save taxpayers
money and increase personal freedom.

Still, there have been problems.

Hospitals are seeing more kids made ill by edible marijuana products
like candy and baked goods, and more adults are having psychotic
episodes. Opponents and supporters are still debating whether crime is
up or down. And marijuana businesses are still trying to build working
relationships with banks that are leery of the federal marijuana ban.

California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996. And as the state
prepares to take another stab at legalization after voters defeated a
2010 measure, it's looking at Colorado as a template in progress.

"There was this hushed anticipation of what might happen ... but the
sky didn't fall," said Amanda Reiman, California policy manager for
the Drug Policy Alliance, which will help lead a 2016 ballot measure
campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in the Golden State. "We
didn't see people quitting their jobs and becoming lazy stoners. We
didn't see kids dropping out of schools by the hundreds. We didn't see
people peddling pot in schoolyards."

But, she said, "I'm glad we didn't go first."

Colorado and Washington state, which could begin legal sales this
week, "are both laboratories right now, opportunities for us and other
states to see what works and what doesn't."

As of Jan. 1, Coloradans 21 and older can buy and possess up to an
ounce of marijuana at a time. They can also grow up to six plants for
personal use, and nonresidents can buy up to a quarter-ounce.

Buyers at licensed retail stores pay 12.9 percent in state sales
taxes, plus a 15 percent excise tax. The levies brought in a total of
almost $11 million by the end of April, with strong month-to-month
growth. The excise tax's first $40 million is earmarked for school

As the revenue rolls in, supporters of legal marijuana say jobs abound
and tourism is up -- 2013-14 was the state's best-ever ski season.

"There are so many positive indicators," said Michael Elliott,
executive director of Colorado's Marijuana Industry Group trade
association. "It's tough for us to take credit for all this, but I
certainly think we're helping and not hurting."

Elliott estimated about 10,000 Coloradans now work in the marijuana
industry, not counting construction workers, landlords, accountants,
attorneys, labeling and packaging companies, testing labs and many
others who are also benefiting from the boom.

Yet opponents say there isn't enough data yet, and there are too many
troublesome anecdotes to call the law a success.

The increase in young children ingesting edible marijuana products
began with the commercialization of Colorado's medical marijuana
sector in 2009 but shot up again with this year's recreational
legalization, said Dr. George Wang, an emergency physician and
toxicologist at Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora. Its emergency
room saw eight cases in 2013 but 12 so far this year; seven children
needed intensive care, and two needed breathing tubes. "They've all
stayed in the hospital typically for a day or two ... until the
symptoms resolve."

Marijuana-related adult emergency-room visits are up too, said Dr.
Andrew Monte, an emergency physician and toxicologist at the nearby
University of Colorado Hospital. But, he said, this happens whenever
any new medicinal or recreational drug hits the market.

"People don't quite know how to use it yet, dosing has not been
established and people don't know what the side effects are," so
people are showing up with short-term psychiatric problems, he said.

"We're going to have this peak, and then it will decline ... as the
industry and the public become more educated regarding its use," said
Monte, who, with Wang, sits on a legislative advisory panel reviewing
state marijuana policies. "That's the type of learning curve I hope
other states would get from Colorado."

New laws enacted in May require that marijuana edibles be sold in
child-resistant, opaque, resealable packaging. The state is also now
deciding how edibles can be shaped, stamped or colored to show they
contain marijuana. And Elliott said the industry is moving away from
high-potency edibles desirable as medicine toward lower doses that
give recreational users the pleasant high they seek.

"The free market is at work," he said.

Statewide criminal justice data isn't available yet, but Elliott and
other supporters note crime in Denver decreased first five months of
this year compared with the same period last year.

Indeed, the four kinds of violent offenses and five kinds of property
offenses reported under the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports program were
down 10.1 percent. But a broader measure -- 46 kinds of offenses
included in the National Incident-Based Reporting System -- shows
crime rose 10.2 percent in Denver.

Elsewhere, the Colorado State Patrol issued 289 citations for driving
under the influence of marijuana from January through May, although
drivers had also used alcohol or other drugs in 129 of those cases.
Marijuana was involved in 12.5 percent of all DUIs in those five
months, a statistic the state only began tracking this year.

Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug
Trafficking Area -- a group that helps coordinate federal, state and
local law enforcement efforts -- said it's too early to say whether
more minors are using marijuana, leading to more instances of unsafe
sex, failing classes or dropping out of school. "We don't want to lose
a generation of kids," he said.

Meanwhile, profitability has become a liability for many marijuana
businesses. The federal ban makes many banks and credit-card issuers
loath to let the businesses open accounts, so it has become a largely
cash industry -- and having a lot of cash around raises the risk of

The Treasury Department set new guidelines in February for banks to
work with marijuana businesses, but Elliott said some institutions
still don't want the hassle of doing the required research and filing
reports, and so refuse such clients entirely.

Colorado's marijuana industry is about to grow bigger still. Until
last Tuesday, only those who previously owned medical marijuana shops
could open general recreational stores that grow what they sell. But
now any resident can seek a license to open any kind of business, from
wholesale growers to retail storefronts.

Whatever happens next, Colorado is teaching the nation that "the
instincts of voters are right, that regulating marijuana works, and
that it's always better to manage a substance like marijuana in the
light of day and under the rule of law than consign it to the
shadows," said Stephen Gutwillig, the Drug Policy Alliance's deputy
executive director.

But Gorman said that's just "spin and half-truths."

"You've waited this long," he advised California, "so you can wait a
little longer and make a decision that's based on facts and data, not



Colorado: 55 percent of voters approved Amendment 64 in November
2012; retail sales began Jan. 1.

Washington: 56 percent of voters approved Initiative 502 in November
2012; retail sales might begin this week.

California: 54 percent of voters rejected Proposition 19 in November
2010; advocates plan to try again in 2016.

Oregon and Alaska: Voters will decide on ballot measures in November.
District of Columbia: Advocates will submit petition signatures
Monday to qualify measure for November's ballot.
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MAP posted-by: Matt