Colorado Governor Responds to Sessions’ Cannabis Concerns


Lukas Barfield

September 8th, 2017

Policy, Top News


Colorado has long been at the center of the marijuana debate. After decades of demonization of the so called “devil weed”, the first Federal arrests under the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act were in Denver Colorado on October 2, 1937. Sixty one years later, taking a different approach, Colorado became one of the first states to pass medical marijuana in 1998. Then in 2012, they made the historic leap to legalize adult use recreational marijuana. Since then, ignoring Federal law, Colorado has implemented a highly regulated recreational marijuana system, and by all measures the state marijuana laboratory is working well. Unfortunately, the new Attorney General Jeff Sessions, does not see Colorado’s marijuana experiment as a success, and sent Colorado’s governor a letter On July 24, 2017 criticizing Colorado’s marijuana system. A month later Governor John Hickenlooper and the state Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman, have replied to Sessions’ letter, rebutting much of Sessions’ contentions, while at the same time pledging cooperation in implementing a regulated marijuana system that accomplishes shared goals.

After opening the letter with assurances of Colorado’s continued cooperation and explaining they are continuously adjusting their approach, the Governor and AG first address in their letter marijuana diversion outside of Colorado. Instead of focusing on what other states have done, Oklahoma and Nebraska have both sued over Colorado’s legal marijuana flooding into their states; Hickenlooper and Coffman highlight what Colorado is doing to keep legal marijuana in their borders since legalization. They cite the recent indictment of 74 individuals for marijuana trafficking, the biggest bust since legalization, as well as, Colorado’s crack down on individuals growing more than 12 plants per resident. They also point out the banning of cooperative growing in the state, and other ongoing law enforcement efforts, including 6 million dollars to fight black market marijuana cultivation.

Moving on to youth access, the Governor and Coffman again take the high road, and ignore Sessions’ use of faulty data from a known antilegalization group. They highlight the latest Healthy Kids Colorado survey which determined there was no significant uptick in youth marijuana use after legalization, a Monitoring the Future survey that appeared in the Journal of Pediatrics which also showed no increase of marijuana use in grades 8, 10 and 12, and a National Survey on Drug Use and Health which shows youth marijuana consumption from 2013 to 2016 went down by 12%. Making their case even stronger, the Governor and Coffman point out the myriad of strategies funded by marijuana tax dollars that help keep Colorado marijuana out of the hands of youth like educating youth around the dangers of marijuana consumption, more health professionals at schools, dropout prevention efforts, and after school programs. They conclude their comments on youth access by reminding Sessions that Colorado’s highly regulated marijuana system makes it harder for youth to obtain marijuana due to precautions like ID verification.

In their letter, the coassignees go on to push back on Sessions’ assertion that marijuana has made Colorado’s roads unsafe. This time the Governor and Coffman specifically call out the faulty data Sessions used in his letter, mentioning the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) and their faulty data by name. According to Hickenlooper and Cofman, RMHIDTA admit that their data pre2012 is incomplete, thus, making any assumptions using their data invalid. Hickenlooper and Coffman point out that the Colorado Highway Patrol saw a 21% drop in marijuana driver impairment in the first six months of 2017, as compared to the same time in 2016. They contribute these findings to Colorado’s public safety campaign educating drivers on the danger of getting behind the wheel while impaired by marijuana, but admit the science behind measuring marijuana impairment when driving is not settled. They assure Sessions that the state is working diligently to prevent marijuana related accidents on Colorado highways.

Finally, the Governor and Coffman addressed Jeff Sessions’ concern regarding hospital visits and poison control calls due to exposure to marijuana products. Again, they assure the Attorney General that Colorado takes seriously the issue of marijuana exposure, but disputes Sessions’ claim that emergency room visits and poison control calls have increased dramatically since legalization. Hickenlooper and Coffman cite an analysis by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment showing that from 2014 to 2015 visits to the emergency room due to exposure to marijuana decreased by 27% and poison control calls related to marijuana exposure decreased by 12% from 2015 to 2016.

Although the back and forth between Sessions and Hickenlooper has caused some waves in the marijuana industry, when put into a historical context, we can see just how far marijuana policy has come in recent years. Upon sentencing the first two men arrested under the Marijuana Stamp Act in Denver, CO on October 5, 1937, the sentencing judge said. “I consider marijuana the worst of all narcotics, far worse than the use of morphine or cocaine. Under its influence men become beasts. Marijuana destroys life itself. I have no sympathy with those who sell this weed. The government is going to enforce this new law to the letter.” [i] Conversely, perhaps signaling a new era in marijuana politics, almost eighty years later, the highest officials in the Colorado government, the Governor and Attorney General, are coming to the defense of an entire industry centered on this so called “terrible weed”.

[i] Block, Bruce A. PLC.  Why is Marijuana Illegal?  Retrieved from: http://brucealanblock.com/why-marijuana-became-legal/

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