By Guy Page
Headliners printed “bullet points” from former U.S. Attorney for Colorado Bob Troyer about the impact of marijuana legalization in Colorado. More highway deaths and black market sales. Moldy pot sold in stores. Black market marijuana treated with nerve-agent pesticides. Store clerks advising cannabis as treatment for morning sickness.
Troyer is no uninformed alarmist. He’s a Democrat and Obama administration appointee who served in the U.S. Attorney’s office from 2010 to 2018. Today he told (via Skype) the House Government Operations Committee the largely untold story about Colorado’s struggles with tax and regulate marijuana legalization.
“Commercialization really changed the life and the atmosphere in the state, very quickly,” Troyer said. “We now have more stores selling marijuana than we have Starbucks and McDonalds combined….The media, the advertising is overwhelming. It has changed the culture quickly and it’s embedded now.”
He cited these specific examples:
- Most youth don’t smoke joints anymore. Instead they “vape” extremely high potency 60-90 percent THC oils through devices that look like flash drives.
- One in five students is a regular drug user (of some kind), three times more than before legalization.
- Alcohol and opioid consumption both up.
- The high school dropout rate has increased.
- The number of employees testing positive for marijuana tripled.
- Marijuana-related calls to poison centers are up 500 percent. ER visits for marijuana overdose are up 52 percent, hospitalizations up 148 percent.
- Marijuana possession arrests are down 8 percent for whites, up 59 percent for blacks and 38 percent for latinos.
- Students in ethnically diverse high schools are twice as likely to be suspended for marijuana possession as students in mostly white high schools.
Ethnic neighborhoods are targeted. “Grows and shops always end up in the most disadvantaged neighborhoods,” Troyer said. “The diverse communities have been much more harmed than privileged communities. The folks who think this is a great thing from a social justice perspective never allow it in their white privilege community.”
For every $1 in marijuana revenue, Colorado spends $4.57 in law enforcement, prevention, and public health to mitigate the damage of legalization, Troyer said. Colorado had to build its own regulatory system, lab testing, FDA-equivalent organization, and marijuana patrol forces in metropolitan police departments. It also needed to ramp up mental health clinic and emergency room funding. “Colorado didn’t look at any of those costs,” he said.
Revenue accounts for one percent of the state budget. The industry has added 15,000 jobs, mostly low-pay service positions. The real money is being made by “12 wealthy white males” who dominate the industry, Troyer said. Their advertising budgets overwhelm prevention messaging funded with public dollars.
“That’s life in Colorado now,” Troyer concluded. Government Ops chair Sarah Copeland-Hanzas said the committee may have questions for Troyer and asked him to be available for future video-conferencing.
About an hour later, Christel Tonoki of Williston, a CVU student, read testimony to Gov Ops that supported Troyer’s statements about legalization harming ethnic groups. Ms. Tonoki read her testimony for Headliners on a Facebook Live video.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.