Pubdate: Thu, 19 May 2016
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2016 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Steve Chapman
Note: Steve Chapman, a member of the Tribune Editorial Board, blogs 


Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper opposed a 2012 state ballot 
initiative to allow the sale and use of marijuana for recreational 
purposes. He told voters it might "increase the number of children 
using drugs and would detract from efforts to make Colorado the 
healthiest state in the nation. It sends the wrong message to kids 
that drugs are OK." Spurning his advice, voters approved it.

So he might be excused if, four years later, he were tempted to gaze 
upon the results of this experiment and say, "I told you so." In 
fact, Hickenlooper has done just the opposite. "It's beginning to 
look like it might work," he said recently.

For years, the state had allowed the medical use of cannabis, which 
was sold in licensed dispensaries. Under the new system, pot is 
regulated and taxed much like alcohol. The new shops began doing 
business on Jan. 1, 2014.

Andrew Freedman, the governor's "marijuana czar," acknowledges that 
"for the most part, Colorado looks a lot like it did before 
legalization." Hickenlooper, he says, is "pleasantly surprised that 
there were not as many challenges as he thought."

The fears expressed back then are familiar ones: Drug use would soar. 
Kids would take the change as approval to get high. Stoned drivers 
would make the roads more dangerous. Public health would suffer. But 
by now, anyone waiting for a parade of horribles may be running out 
of patience.

There have been some unwelcome side effects. Emergency room visits 
for marijuana-related problems have increased, apparently due to 
inexperienced users ingesting too much of the drug, often in edible 
form such as candy bars.

A couple of deaths were blamed on reactions to overdoses. So the 
state issued new rules to prevent such mistakes.

Aside from those and the emergence of pot tourism, legalization has 
been remarkable for how unremarkable it's been. Freedman told the Los 
Angeles Times he's seen no real change in health or safety problems.

The latest edition of "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to 
Know," by scholars Jonathan P. Caulkins, Beau Kilmer and Mark A.R. 
Kleiman, notes that adult use has risen in Colorado - though less 
rapidly than in three other states.

But the authors also say "it is difficult to know how much of the 
increase represents real change and how much reflects respondents' 
increased honesty about their marijuana use." Make certain conduct 
legal, and those engaging in it have less reason to lie.

A federal agency reported in December that Colorado had the nation's 
highest rate of consumption among kids from 12 to 17, with nearly 13 
percent using it in the past month. But that rate has been as flat as 
eastern Colorado. The state Department of Public Safety found "no 
significant change" in cannabis use by adolescents.

Blaming the relatively high rate on legalization may get the 
causation backward. It could be teens smoke a lot of pot because it 
became legal (for adults, that is). Or it could be that it became 
legal because people in Colorado smoked a lot of pot.

Alarmists predicted that more people would drive under the influence, 
causing a surge of highway deaths. But the danger of pot is commonly 
exaggerated. A study by Eduardo Romano of the Pacific Institute for 
Research and Evaluation found no evidence that marijuana use by 
drivers raises their risk of crashing.

"Despite our results, I still think that marijuana contributes to 
crash risk," he told The New York Times, "only that its contribution 
is not as important as it was expected." In any event, the state's 
traffic death rate per 100 million vehicle miles driven actually fell 
slightly in 2014.

The overall results of legalization have not inspired panic. The 
Denver Post reports that at least four towns that haven't allowed 
recreational pot dispensaries are now considering it.

"I think there's enough evidence out there that recreational 
marijuana can be done safely and responsibly," said Emmett 
Reistroffer, a member of the Englewood Liquor and Medical Marijuana 
Licensing Authority. The police chief of Littleton said he wouldn't 
"anticipate significant negative impact related to crime should the 
council choose to allow recreational sales."

Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia have also 
approved recreational pot. Voters in California, Nevada and Maine are 
preparing to decide on their own legalization measures in November.

The question raised by Colorado's mellow experience is not, "Why do 
it?" It's, "Why not?"
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom