Negative effects of legal marijuana rising, law enforcement task force study finds | VailDaily.com

Negative effects of legal marijuana rising, law enforcement task force study finds

Not all that glitters is Acupulco gold. Legal marijuana has created several negative side effects, a Rocky Mountain regional law enforcement task force found.

EAGLE — You're more likely to die in a car crash caused by a driver under the influence of drugs than alcohol.

A Rocky Mountain regional drug enforcement task force scoured data from 2003, when Coloradans began legalizing marijuana, to this year and found that 43 percent of drivers in fatal accidents had drugs in their systems, and 36 percent of drivers had marijuana in their systems, according to the the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

That's compared to 37 percent of drivers in fatalities whose blood alcohol levels were above the legal limit.

The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area encompasses 30 counties, including Eagle County, in four states — Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Utah — and covers 286,823 square miles. It was established in 1996 by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The goal is to combat drug trafficking locally, regionally and nationally.

Over half believe driving high is safe

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The number of Colorado drivers under the influence of marijuana involved in fatal crashes has more than doubled since 2013, from 55 people in 2013 to 138 in 2017 — one every two days.

However, 55 percent of the marijuana users surveyed by the Colorado Department of Transportation said they believed it was safe to drive under the influence of marijuana. That same percentage admitted that they had driven high within 30 days of taking the survey. In fact, they did it an average of 12 times.

'Need to change'

"There's definitely more of a stigma against driving drunk than driving high, and that's something we do need to change," said Sam Cole, Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman, when the CDOT survey was released.

Some motorists appear to embrace both alcohol and pot, the data analysis found.

The Colorado Department of Public Safety crunched 2016 data and found that more than 70 percent of 3,946 drivers charged with driving under the influence of alcohol also tested positive for marijuana at or above the legal limit, 5.0 nanograms.

That study also found that 57 percent of marijuana users in Colorado admitted to driving within two hours after they consumed it.

Supply and Demand

Marijuana is an industry, governed by the laws of supply and demand, as any other. Recreational marijuana was legalized with Amendment 64, and pot shops popped up like weeds.

As of June 2017, Colorado was home to 491 retail marijuana stores, compared to 392 Starbucks and 208 McDonald's, according to the Marijuana Policy Group's "Market Size and Demand for Marijuana in Colorado 2017 Market Update."

At the same time, prices fell 47.9 percent, from $41.43 to $21.57 per gram.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

The data

The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area study, released earlier this month, is broken into three timeframes:

1. Early medical marijuana era (2000-2008).

2. Medical marijuana commercialization era (2009-current).

3. Recreational marijuana era (2013-current).

Traffic fatalities and impaired driving

• Since recreational marijuana was legalized, marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 151 percent, while all Colorado traffic deaths increased 35 percent

• Since recreational marijuana was legalized, traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana more than doubled from 55 in 2013 to 138 people killed in 2017, one person killed every two days compared to one person killed every six days.

Marijuana use

• Colorado past-month marijuana use is up 45 percent over the last three years.

• Colorado past-month marijuana use for ages 12 and older is ranked third in the nation and is 85 percent higher than the national average.

Public health

• Emergency room visits related to marijuana increased 52 percent after the legalization of recreational marijuana (2012 compared to 2016).

• Yearly marijuana-related hospitalizations increased 148 percent after the legalization of recreational marijuana (2012 compared to 2016).

Black market

• The Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task forces seized 7.3 tons of black-market marijuana and 43,949 marijuana plants in 2017.

Colorado Task Forces conducted 144 investigations of black market marijuana in Colorado resulting in:

• 239 felony arrests,

• 7.3 tons of marijuana seized,

• 43,949 marijuana plants seized.

• The number of highway seizures of Colorado marijuana increased 39 percent from an average of 242 seizures (2009-2012) to an average of 336 seizures (2013-2017) during the time recreational marijuana has been legal.

• Seizures of Colorado marijuana in the U.S. mail increased 1,042 percent from an average of 52 parcels (2009-2012) to an average of 594 parcels (2013-2017) during the time recreational marijuana has been legal.

Societal impact

• Marijuana tax revenue is less than 1 percent of Colorado’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget.

• Violent crime increased 18.6 percent and property crime increased 8.3 percent in Colorado since 2013.

• 65 percent of local jurisdictions in Colorado have banned medical and recreational marijuana businesses.

Source: Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area