Niforatos: Put parents and kids over weed profits on 4/20

By Luke Niforatos

Today marks the annual weed “holiday,” 4/20, a day when the marijuana industry celebrates its drug, but parents and kids continue to suffer the consequences. In the nine years since recreational weed sales were first legal in Colorado, families in our state have paid the price, from road deaths to industry targeting of kids.  

The industry promised a whole lot of benefits to legalization which have yet to materialize. Where are all the tax dollars? Why are we still talking about the black market? Why don’t Colorado police have more “free time” since they no longer have to “bother” with low level weed possession?  

Legalization has failed to live up to its financial, health, and regulatory promises. Meanwhile, the multibillion-dollar marijuana industry, in tandem with Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol, is pushing for fewer public health guardrails and lower taxes (already!). Statewide, the industry has spent more than $7 million in lobbying to reduce or eliminate regulations like the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act.  

In the last nine years while the industry turned a massive profit, marijuana tax revenue is only 1% of the state’s revenues and we’ve seen a sharp rise in negative public health outcomes. The number of traffic fatalities in which drivers tested positive for marijuana more than doubled between 2013 and 2020. More than 20% of Colorado’s students over the age of 14 said they used marijuana in the last month, according to the 2019 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. A University of Colorado School of Medicine study found that 10,000 emergency room visits between 2013 and 2016 involved people who were either smoking cannabis or taking edibles, and doctors could attribute 25% of the medical conditions for which they were seeking help to their use of marijuana.  

These data aren’t surprising, given there are more weed shops in Colorado than Starbucks and McDonald’s combined. With about 20% of our state’s users making up around 70% of the marijuana industry’s profits, it’s clear heavy use is driving their bottom line. This is all made possible by the supercharged drug the industry has created – up to 99% potency now versus 2% just a couple of decades ago.  

The results of this highly potent marijuana are a much more addictive product. More access to addictive drugs does not make communities stronger or safer. We don’t need to lock up people for a joint, but we do need to address marijuana commercialization and its broader consequences. 

And what about getting rid of the drug dealers? Legalization only made it worse. According to the Rocky Mountain HIDTA task force, investigations into illicit marijuana sales have more than doubled in recent years. The lax marijuana laws in Colorado have attracted large foreign cartels to the state’s suburban communities, where hundreds of illegal marijuana plants have been seized in raids. States like California, Oregon, and Michigan all have more than 80% of their markets served by illegal dealers and have seen similar explosions in underground marijuana operations. 

Legalization has lined the pockets of the industry and its tobacco and alcohol investors, but the costs have been borne by our state’s most vulnerable populations. It’s time we regulated this industry more tightly to protect families across the state- restrictions on advertising, the sky-high potency of the drug, and the number of locations should all be on the table. This 4/20, let’s put down the joint – and focus on joint efforts to hold this industry accountable.  

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About the Author:

Luke Niforatos is the Executive Vice President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana