Marijuana

Report Shows Pot Prohibitionists' Desperation

The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area exaggerates the costs of marijuana legalization in Colorado while ignoring the benefits.

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During a debate while running for re-election in 2014, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was asked whether voters in his state had been "reckless" when they approved marijuana legalization two years earlier. "To a certain extent you could say it was reckless," he replied.

Last May, after repeatedly saying he would reverse legalization if he had "a magic wand," Hickenlooper told the Los Angeles Times, "If I had that magic wand now, I don't know if I would wave it. It's beginning to look like it might work."

See if you can guess which Hickenlooper quote appears in the latest report on marijuana legalization in Colorado from the drug warriors at the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA). It's not much of a puzzle. Since suppressing the use of marijuana and other illegal drugs is RMHIDTA's mission, its reports on legalization are indictments masquerading as objective assessments. The same organization that last year falsely claimed public support for legalization had declined in Colorado this year portrays a governor who sounds cautiously optimistic about legalization as unambiguously against it.

The report's treatment of Hickenlooper is of a piece with its one-sided approach, which focuses exclusively on the negative consequences of legalization and exaggerates what we know about them. RMHIDTA likes to present dramatic, seemingly scientific charts that make legalization look like a big mistake. The difficulties of interpreting the data presented in the charts are usually relegated to a footnote, assuming they are mentioned at all.

On page 79 of the new report, for instance, there is a column chart showing a dramatic increase in "marijuana-related emergency department visits" between 2012, the year Colorado voters approved legalization, and 2013, the year the initiative began to take effect. The footnote says, "2011 and 2012 emergency department data reflects [sic] incomplete reporting statewide. Inferences concerning trends, including 2011 and 2012, should not be made."

Similarly, a line graph on page 17 shows a sharp increase in "traffic deaths related to marijuana," which a footnote defines as "fatalities involving operators testing positive for marijuana." A footnote in the introduction (on page 11) warns, "This report will cite datasets with terms such as 'marijuana-related' or 'tested positive for marijuana.' That does not necessarily prove that marijuana was the cause of the incident."

On reason "marijuana-related" crashes are not necessarily related to marijuana is that people can test positive for THC, marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient, even when they are not impaired. In fact, as the report notes in its summary of an Associated Press story published last May, "There is no science that shows drivers become impaired at a specific level of THC in the blood. A lot depends on the individual. Drivers with relatively high levels of THC in their systems might not be impaired, especially if they are regular users, while others with relatively low levels may be unsafe behind the wheel."

RMHIDTA's habit of inviting inferences in headlines while warning readers not to draw them in footnotes reaches ridiculous extremes on page 45, where a column chart labeled "Colorado School Dropouts" (above) shows what looks like a dramatic increase between 2013-14 and 2014-15. Although the difference between the 2013-14 total (10,546) and the 2014-15 total (11,114) is about 5 percent, the graph makes it look like the number of dropouts more than doubled, because the Y axis begins at 10,200. But never mind: "Rocky Mountain HIDTA has been asked about the number of school dropouts in Colorado numerous times and is, therefore, providing the data. Rocky Mountain HIDTA is not equating the number of dropouts with marijuana legalization."

Similarly, a chapter offering "related data" includes this warning: "Some of the data reported in this section is because [sic] there have been so many inquiries on the particular subject, such as crime and suicides. This is not to infer [sic] that the data is [sic] due to the legalization of marijuana." When you present trends in the context of a report that purports to describe "the impact" of marijuana legalization in Colorado, the clear implication is that they show the impact of marijuana legalization in Colorado. If the data don't do that, including them at the behest of curious readers makes little sense.

Because RMHIDTA is keen to show that legalization has been a disaster in Colorado, it favors the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which indicates that "youth past month marijuana use increased 20 percent in the two year average…since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana compared to the two?year average…prior to legalization" (emphasis in original). RMHIDTA does not like the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS), even though it has a much larger sample, because HKCS indicates that adolescent marijuana use has been essentially flat since the drug was legalized. RMHIDTA argues that HKCS is unworthy of inclusion in the report because it had a low response rate (46 percent) in 2015. But one suspects the survey would have been acceptable if its results were more alarming. Even the increase found by NSDUH was not statistically significant—a point that RMHIDTA conveniently overlooks.

Although the data so far are equivocal, increased secondhand access to marijuana (through relatives, friends, and acquaintances who buy it legally) could still lead to an increase in cannabis consumption by Colorado teenagers. But it seems clear by now that pot prohibitionists were wrong when they warned that relaxing legal restrictions on marijuana, as more than two dozen states have done since 1996, would boost underage consumption by making the drug seem safer and more socially acceptable. In a recent analysis of NSDUH data, researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that the perceived riskiness of cannabis consumption fell among adults and teenagers between 2002 and 2014, a period when 16 states and the District of Columbia legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. But cannabis consumption rose only among adults, and it actually declined among teenagers.

RMHIDTA views any increase in adult marijuana use as unequivocally bad. But since an increase in use reflects greater consumer satisfaction, it really should be counted as a benefit of legalization, except to the extent that it causes measurable problems. On that score the CDC's analysis is reassuring, because the increase in adult use was not accompanied by a commensurate increase in "dependence and abuse" (as measured by questions about marijuana-related problems). In fact, marijuana use was less likely to qualify for that description in 2014 than it was in 2002.

Among 18-to-25-year-olds who reported using marijuana in the previous year, the incidence of dependence and abuse fell from 20.1 percent in 2002 to 15.3 percent in 2014, a 24 percent drop. That same rate fell from 10.9 percent to 8.7 percent—a 20 percent drop—among respondents older than 25. Abuse became less common even as the share of cannabis consumers reporting that they used marijuana every day or almost every day during the previous year rose from 14.5 percent to 19.9 percent among 18-to-25-year-olds and from 11.4 percent to 19.4 percent in the older group.

Another analysis of NSDUH data, reported last month in Lancet Psychiatry, notes that the overall prevalence of marijuana use disorders among adult cannabis consumers fell from 14.8 percent in 2002 to 11 percent in 2014, a 26 percent drop. That downward trend is broadly consistent with results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), although NESARC generates larger rate estimates and measures a smaller drop.

Critics of prohibition have long argued that banning an intoxicant encourages bad habits and makes it hard to develop a culture of responsible use. It is also plausible that drug users who are undeterred by prohibition are, as a group, especially prone to excess. Therefore it is not surprising that cannabis consumers became less likely to abuse the drug as prohibition began to crumble. While that development is not conclusive evidence that repealing prohibition promotes self-control, it should be of interest to anyone who recognizes that legalization has benefits as well as costs. Needless to say, there is no mention of this intriguing trend in the RMHIDTA report.

This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.

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  1. I bet that “Rocky Mountain High” is the name of an actual marijuana product.

    1. I’ll bet that the sun sets in the western sky this evening.

    2. I wonder how the estate of John Denver feels about that?

      Supposedly, the song is about his enthusiasm for smoking weed and digging the mountains, so maybe they like it.

      1. Supposedly, the song is about his enthusiasm for smoking weed and digging the mountains, so maybe they like it.

        Maybe it ultimately is but the whole reason he stood up to Tipper Gore and the other PMRC fucktards is his objection to the song being labeled as promoting drug use. He, Frank Zappa and Dee Snyder were doing the Lord’s work for the First Amendment in the 1980’s. Maybe Under The Blade is really about sadomasochism.

        1. Well, I don’t think it was written to obviously mean that, but I thought that was the inspiration.

  2. Tax revenues, baby, tax revenues. The rest now is all blah blah blah to politicians’ ears

  3. Governor Hicky-Booper hates pot, just ’cause of this little incident at Woodstock (I was there & I saw it happen!), which is where he made his name for himself.
    The future guv gets “Rocky Mountain High” and then goes up to this guy and tries to give him a hicky, and, of course, gets booped on the nose, fair and square. Hence, hicky-booper… And now Hicky-Booper blames the pot, instead of his own lack of self-control, whereby he can’t keep his lips outta other people’s pants!

  4. Truth is not part of the drug warriors’ arsenal.

    1. The drug warrior lie about how dangerous drugs are, the legalizers lie about how harmless they are. Both sides have left the truth so far behind that a lot of their blather could be mistaken for satire.

      The real issue is that there’s precious little evidence that drug prohibition has had any positive effect commensurate with its costs, but that’s far too logical.

      1. I don’t think the “legalizers” necessarily lie about drugs being harmless. They (we, since I am one) say that prohibition causes more harm than the drugs themselves.

        The positive effect of drug prohibition is emotional. It makes people feel good. And that can’t be measured in dollars.

        Well, it makes people feel good until it affects someone that they care about. I know a few people who were once big time drug warriors until they had friends or family go to prison over it. Then they saw the true nature of the war on drugs. It isn’t a war on drugs. It is a war on people.

        1. Or they get cancer and realize smoking pot is the only way they can keep their food down after chemo.

        2. Now, look. I have been following the drug was since the mid 1970’s. In that time, pretty much constantly, there has been a strong streak of “Pot is good for everything that ails you OR the U.S. economy” blather from the pro-legalization side. Now, sometime in the late ’80’s that started to be overtaken by the better founded Libertarian arguments. But it’s still there, and I run into far too many idiots who swallow it hook, line, sinker, rod, reel, and waders.

          There are also well founded arguments for pot being illegal, IF you accept that it is any business of the State if people want to ingest poison. These get drowned out by absurd “three tokes of Pot will turn your teen into a werewolf” crap.

          I happen to think that, at this late date, one could grant that it is society’s business to protect people from themselves, IF SUCH MEASURES CAN BE SHOWN TO WORK, but since several decades of effort along those lines have conspicuously failed it is time to stop. I believe that not only of marijuana, but also of opium, heroin, LSD, and cocaine. But I’m a Crank.

          1. “I happen to think that, at this late date, one could grant that it is society’s business to protect people from themselves, IF SUCH MEASURES CAN BE SHOWN TO WORK,”

            Let me be clear: It is NEVER society’s business to protect people from themselves. Never. This idea corrupts everything it touches, and should never be seriously considered as a foundation for any public policy option.

            Laws exist to guarantee the free exercise of natural rights, to prevent coercion by force from the government and other citizens, period.

          2. One didn’t hear much in the way of leave-people-alone arguments until the 1980s because libertarian sentiment hadn’t previously been ascendant for a while. So the only argument that many people would listen to in the 1970s was, this is good for people, because of course only things that are good for you should be legal.

          3. The thing is, the argument that marijuana is less bad for you than pretty much all other common illegal drugs is true. Which is why even many people who really believe the principled argument against all drug prohibition will fall back on that argument.

            It kind of amazes me how many people seem down right offended when you suggest that heroin and meth need to be legalized too, and for the same reasons that weed does. People just aren’t ready for that. Voodoo pharmacology is a popular theory.

        3. “It isn’t a war on drugs. It is a war on people.”

          Yeah man… Prime demo of this fact: Drug warriors bust down our doors in the middle of the night, lest we “flush some evidence down the toilet”.

          If it was a war on drugs and not on people, they’d be perfectly willing to give us 10 minutes to “flush some evidence down the toilet”… ‘Cause when your enemy has been flushed already, you have won your war already! Ergo, it is a war on people…

      2. Some people get a little carried away with the benefits of weed (though there are many that are quite legitimate). But the prohibitionists are much, much worse with their disregard for the truth. As far as recreational drugs go, weed is really the safest and least problem-inducing thing going.

        Of course, even most “legalizers” are also prohibitionists when it comes to heroin or meth or other “hard” drugs.

        If you ask me, the real issue is that is it completely and utterly immoral and evil to imprison or otherwise punish someone for using, possessing or selling (in an honest transaction) drugs.

      3. and abundant evidence that prohibition and criminalisation have resulted in unacceptably high costs to society, ranging from the wasting of billions of OUR tax dollaes to wage the phoney make-work “war” against it, to denying many civil rights to millions of people who harmed no one, to the wasting of millions more lives as they wallowed in for-profit prisons for years on charged arising from contra-constitutional laws forbidding the use of substances arbitrarily determined to be “controlled” often at the behest of profit-seeking private corporations.

  5. Isn’t this post a repeat? And isn’t repeating yourself a sign you’ve been smoking too much dope?

  6. Isn’t this post a repeat? And isn’t repeating yourself a sign you’ve been smoking too much dope?

    1. And again – yes it is

  7. Posting this question here because the AM links thread is too crowded, has Hillary picked a running mate yet? ‘Cause it’d be nice to know who’s going to be president for the next eight years.

  8. There’s no prohibition in the social contract about lying in service to mankind.

  9. has Hillary picked a running mate yet? ‘Cause it’d be nice to know who’s going to be president for the next eight years.

    I think Bill will be happy to play the role of Mrs Wilson.

  10. Most profound ignorance about plants is still the coca leaf. Nobody in history ever died chewing coca leaves.a lot of bad teeth ( from the catalyst chewing agent made with lime)).but zero mortality.most interesting is how fiificult it is in South America to find any evidence of any allergic reaction to coca leaf.

  11. On the subject of emergency room cases secondary to pot.1-3%! of population has gene for schizophrenia.a half % of that number are introduced to their first nightmare with schizophrenia by use of marijuana.otherwise most ER pot episodes result in 4-12 hours of rest,hydration, monitoring.in contrast severe alcohol withdrawal is a life threatening emergency requiring hospitalization and medicine.

  12. RE: Report Shows Pot Prohibitionists’ Desperation

    The little people must not use MJ because it allows freedom of choice. Instead, the filth masses should be ingesting the wisdom of Karl Marx, may his name be blessed, Lenin, Stalin, etc. Reading and mastering the writings and sayings of such successful slavers will only benefit them, their socialist slavers and society as a whole. MJ only makes a person silly, happy and have the munchies. That is not what socialism is about. Its about controlling the little people who have a clear mind, a healthy body and a willingness to believe any bullshit our ruling elitist turds say. MJ only obstructs such wise diktats from The State, and thus, retards the growth of the Glorious Peoples Revolution. Now does everyone know why MJ should never be legal?

  13. I like that phrase “does not necessarily prove.” Equivalent to “does not prove.”

  14. On page 79 of the new report, for instance, there is a column chart showing a dramatic increase in “beer-related emergency department visits” between 1933, the year Colorado voters approved beer legalization, and 1934, the year the initiative began to take effect. The footnote says, “1933 and 1934 emergency department data reflects [sic] incomplete reporting statewide. Inferences concerning trends, including 1933 and 1934, should not be made.”

    Similarly, a line graph on page 17 shows a sharp increase in “traffic deaths related to beer,” which a footnote defines as “fatalities involving operators testing positive for beer.” A footnote in the introduction (on page 11) warns, “This report will cite datasets with terms such as ‘beer-related’ or ‘tested positive for beer.’ That does not necessarily prove that beer was the cause of the incident.”

    Sorry – the war on beer failed. Coors thanks you for our natural right to drink beer.

  15. “RMHIDTA views any increase in adult marijuana use as unequivocally bad”

    As a resident of Colorado and an owner of 2 Marijuana dispensaries and a Cultivation facility I can tell you unequivocally that a great many regular users are consuming cannabis for reasons other than getting high. For those who have not yet visited the state and toured one of our dispensaries it might be hard to envision the progress this industry has made in product offerings, delivery methods, and strain specific products designed to target everything from Lupus to arthritis. I, as well as many of my friends and customers use cannabis in place of “traditional” meds.

  16. So Hickenlooper is the one who started the “If I could wave a magic wand” meme, and Gary Johnson copied it from him?

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