Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Colorado's "Year of Green" (MJ): The Highs, the Lies and the Lows

Justin Auchenbach of Casper, Wyo., gives a high-five inside LoDo Wellness in Denver in anticipation of making a marijuana purchase during Colorado's first day of recreational pot sales on Wednesday.
One of the first retail MJ customers delivers high fives at a Denver Pot Outlet in January.

Now that nearly 365 days have elapsed it is possible to assess the past historical year whereby one state (Colorado) came to be the marijuana mecca of the world.  Enough data is now available to show how successful Amendment 64 has been, in legalizing the retail sale of marijuana. Despite that, too many are unaware of the level of success, as well as the level of failure - given the fact that one less-publicized aspect of 64 is  that local communities, even counties, could opt out. (This had been an important part of the amendment's wording, allowing choice in whether any given locale would take on MJ retail sales or exclude them.)

First, some of the facts compiled from the Denver Post ('Legalization Review', Dec. 28):

- Colorado's annual demand for MJ:  130. 3 metric tons

- Adults 21 and older using MJ at least once per month:   485,000

- Total medical MJ sales - January-October:  $326, 716, 273

- Proportion of MJ sales to out of state tourists in mountain communities - 90 percent

- The proportion of Colorado MJ users who consume it each day:  23 percent

- Amount brought in from taxes, licenses and fees - January-October: $60.1 million 

To read through the preceding, the unwary might conclude the state is awash in stoners, leaning against buildings and barely able to get themselves from point A to point B. They might also wrongly conclude retail pot stores are all over the state. In fact, the Post's stats show that more Colorado communities (165) have chosen to disallow retail pot sales than have accepted them (53).  Check that ratio again and it is more than three to one NO. Yet this is one of the aspects that has rarely been publicized.

According to industry spokesman Mike Elliot, of the Marijuana Industry Group:

"I think the local option is one of the best aspects of Amendment 64. If communities don't want this, it shouldn't be forced down their throats."

Well, that depends. What if, for an entire county, the Amendment passed, but its city council decided to ignore the voters' will?  The Post has noted two radically different approaches, one that respects the citizen and the other which basically spits on his vote.

For example, in Lakewood, CO in November, the City Council gave voters the chance to cast votes in a specific separate referendum that would have allowed the opening of pot retail stores. According to Mayor Bob Murphy, "the issue was important enough that city leaders felt the decision ought to go to a vote of the people, rather than be decided by the city council".

The referendum result was to scrap pot shops in Lakewood for now by a 53- 47 % majority.

Colorado Springs, conservative bastion of military interests that it is, chose to go in the opposite direction, making a city council decision that took it out of citizens' hands. They probably knew, given the fact the amendment passed by 5,000 votes in 2012, they might not win and they didn't wish to take that chance. In other words, they didn't trust we the citizens to make the right decision.

The fallout as many have noted, is that the $6-9 million a year the Springs might have gotten via taxes, fees - to fund its Pioneers Museum - will now go to neighboring Manitou Springs which has recently allowed retail pot, wisely noting COS' negative is Manitou's gain. Sadly, the City Council will have to continue to beg for $ for its daffy museum, but most of us will have no sympathy for them - given they already "made their bed".

The Lies and the Lows:

Yes, there were lies and lows that emerged over the year. First, some of the lows:

- The death of an African college student from Wyoming who - after eating an MJ cookie and not attending to the warning dose- jumped off a building

- A father of two, shooting and killing his wife after he ate several MJ candies and began hallucinating.

- Incidents of MJ edibles ingestion by children rushed to ERs

- NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd comes to Colo. and eats an MJ cookie without noting the dose, then writes a crap column about her "psychotic" experience.

Since these transpired, Colorado MJ regulators and the businesses have gone all out to more properly assay THC content in each product, including cannabis oil.  They have also packaged edibles more securely with  more prominent warning messages and the THC doses in edibles such as cookies, candies.   Of course, as many in the MJ business have pointed out, parents are also expected to do their part in minding what their kids are doing.

The lies:

- You can openly buy MJ on the street (only in the black market- not the regulated one!)

- If an adult purchases marijuana edibles only he or she can transport them across state lines. (Absolutely not!)

- People who purchase marijuana at a retail outlet can then smoke it  -like a cigarette- on the street. (No you may not, you are expected to take it back to your domicile to use it)

- Any kid can just grab an MJ edible off the shelf of a pot retail shop. (Fact: No kid is even allowed close to an MJ shop and no kid would be permitted entry!)

- MJ businesses can openly advertise their wares in newspapers, magazines and on billboards. (Absolutely not - any marketing has to be via word of mouth!)

- MJ edible candies look exactly like name brand candies such as Tootsie Rolls, M & Ms, Snickers bars.

- More people have been busted for driving under MJ influence than for alcohol.

Meanwhile, the Denver Post in its editorial yesterday, did correctly note that with the implementation of the new law, marijuana use by Colorado citizens has increased. But this would be expected if any new business had opened up, in any state, and it sought growth. After all, to survive a business must grow which means building a customer base. And many of these will be people who are curious about the product, and have never tried it before.

As the owner of the Pot retail chain Euflora observed on MSNBC's series 'The Pot Barons of Colorado', many of her customers are trying it for the first time, largely in the form of the edibles. As word spreads on how good the edibles are, and their mellow effects - taken in the proper dose - then many more new customers sign on. Basically, their numbers are only limited by the types, amounts of product they desire.

But as the earlier stat cited from the Post showed, that still means only 485,000 people using even once per month. That is barely 9 percent of Colorado's population, so it's not as if the whole state is under the influence of pot or even a tenth of the state's populace.  This is important so that outsiders keep it in perspective.

There is still much to be done, and the next year may well show if the pot business is here to stay or if it turns out to be merely a temporary craze. My bet is that - having seen the MSNBC series and the Post's review - it is likely to stay and become a credible model for responsible MJ businesses for other states.

There will always be naysayers, of course, and this is to be expected with the end of any era of prohibition, look at the 1930s with alcohol. But in the end, the fewer laws on the books which can put people away - take away their freedom for an individual choice - the better. And the more the states can regulate and tax the more likely they are to be able to fund such things as education and pensions - when other sources are collapsing.  It is certainly to be preferred over casinos!

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