Colorado sends a clear warning for New Zealand

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Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012 but has not gotten what proponents promised. Here’s what it’s gotten instead:

A just-released Colorado report compiled by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RHMIDTA) finds marijuana-positive traffic fatalities, hospitalisations, marijuana use, and illegal market activity have all increased since marijuana legalisation.


  • When comparing the three years prior to legalizing recreational marijuana to the average of three years after the legalization, college age marijuana use increased 18 percent and is 60 percent higher than the national average, ranked 3rd in the nation. Youth marijuana use increased 5 percent and is 54 percent higher than the national average, ranked 7th in the nation.
  • The latest study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services found that more young people are trying marijuana for the first time in Colorado, and the state is at the top of the list for the lowest perception of risk of using marijuana among teens. Almost 8% of Colorado teens admitted to using marijuana for the first time last year, compared with 7.9% in Massachusetts, 7.4% in DC and 7.1% in Alaska, all jurisdictions with “legal” marijuana (marijuana remains illegal in the U.S. per the Controlled Substances Act). Past month use of marijuana is double in “legal” states among all age groups, and 45% higher in the 12 to 17-year-old category (9.1% versus 6.3%)
  • The industry targets kids by selling marijuana consumption devices to avoid detection like vape pens that look like high-lighters and eye-liner.
  • Marketers advertise super high potency gummi candies to youth whose developing brains make them more vulnerable to addiction. The vast amount of industry profits come from heavy and addicted users.
  • Colorado toxicology reports show the percentage of adolescent suicide victims testing positive for marijuana has increased. (Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment [CDPHE], 2017).

Big Marijuana

  • As of June 2017, there were 491 retail marijuana stores in the state of Colorado compared to 392 Starbucks and 208 McDonald’s.
  • Colorado past month marijuana use shows a 45% increase in comparing the three-year average prior to recreational marijuana being legalised to the three years after legalization – ranked 3rd in the nation and is 85 percent higher than the national average.

Marijuana-Related Traffic Fatalities

  • Marijuana-related traffic fatalities are up 151 percent. Since recreational marijuana was legalised, traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana more than doubled from 55 in 2013 to 138 people killed in 2017.


  • According to the Marijuana Policy Group, Market Size and Demand for Marijuana in Colorado 2017 Market Update:
    “The average THC content of all tested flower in 2017 was 19.6% statewide compared to 17.4% in 2016, 16.6% in 2015 and 16.4% in 2014.”
    “The average potency of concentrated extract products increased steadily from 56.6% THC content by weight in 2014 to 68.6% at the end of 2017.”


  • The yearly rate of emergency department visits related to marijuana increased 52% after the legalisation of recreational marijuana. (2012 compared to 2016).The yearly rate of marijuana-related hospitalisations increased 148%


  • Violent crime increased 18.6% and property crime increased 8.3% in Colorado since 2013. 65% of local jurisdictions in Colorado have banned medical and recreational marijuana businesses.

Environmental Damage

  • An indoor marijuana grow consumes 17 times more power than an average residence.
  • A mature cannabis plant can consume upwards of 22.7 liters of water per-day during the growing season

Contaminated Products

  • Colorado has issued more than 40 recalls of plants laced with pesticides and mold.

Burgeoning Black Market

  • Rather than being eliminated, the state’s black market has exploded. Colorado has become a source state for international drug trafficking and money laundering operations from Cuba, China, Mexico, and elsewhere. RMHIDTA Colorado Task Forces (10) conducted 144 investigations of black-market marijuana in Colorado.
  • Last year, the regulated industry produced 6.4 metric tons of unaccounted-for marijuana. More than 80,000 black-market plants were found on Colorado’s federal lands.

Colorado legalised marijuana commercialisation for medical use in 2009 followed by recreational use three years later. Like Colorado, the other seven states that fully legalized marijuana commercialised the drug for medical use first.

Don’t let New Zealand follow Colorado.

It’s high time we took a breath from marijuana commercialisation
“Colorado’s youth use marijuana at a rate 85% higher than the national average. Now marijuana-related traffic fatalities are up by 151%. Now 70% of 400 licensed pot shops surveyed recommend that pregnant women use marijuana to treat morning sickness. Now an indoor marijuana grow consumes 17x more power per square foot than an average residence. Now each of the approximately 1m adult marijuana plants grown by licensed growers in Colorado consumes over 2.2 liters of water – per day. Now Colorado has issued over 40 little-publicized recalls of retail marijuana laced with pesticides and mold. And now Colorado has a booming black market… We should pause and catch our breath before racing off again at the industry’s urging. Let’s call it “just say know.” Let’s educate ourselves about the impacts of commercialization. Let’s reclaim our right as citizens to have a say in Colorado’s health, safety, and environment. Unfettered commercialization is not inevitable. You have a say.
U.S. Attorney for District of Colorado Bob Troyer’s September 2018 op-ed here.