The Risks of Recreational Weed

As nine states look to legalize marijuana use, Denver's district attorney shares some very important data

The stakes on Nov. 8 couldn’t be higher.

Not only are voters being asked to choose between leaders who would take our country in very different directions — voters nationwide are also being asked to decide some critical and divisive issues. Among them: the legalization of medicinal and recreational marijuana.

“Police in Denver are busier investigating crimes directly related to marijuana, including murders, robberies, and home invasions, than any other time in the history of the city,” according to the Denver DA.

Proponents of legalization measures on the ballot in nine states have spent millions on ads and awareness campaigns. These ads and campaigns tout the benefits of recreational use — and the seemingly few risks to individuals and communities as a whole.

Opponents of legalization say it’s been tough to make their voices heard or disseminate any clear facts to help voters to make an informed choice — especially when it comes to what has happened in Colorado since recreational use was legalized there on Nov. 6, 2012.

So they asked the Denver district attorney for just the facts, specifically so that voters in California might have a better understanding of what they are voting for or against on Tuesday.

“We requested the letter because there’s been so much misinformation as to the real story in Colorado,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, co-founder of SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) and assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida. “We wanted to go straight to the source.”

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They were surprised by Denver District Attorney Mitchell R. Morrissey’s response.

His letter to the “No on 64 Campaign” and SAM Action reads:

California voters are being told that they will see the crime rate go down if they vote to legalize marijuana commercially; this has not been the case in the state of Colorado or the city of Denver. Since the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado in 2013, traffic-related marijuana deaths have increased 48 percent, marijuana-related emergency room visits have increased 49 percent, and marijuana-related calls to the poison center have increased 100 percent. According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, in 2015 statewide homicides in Colorado rose 14.7 percent over the previous year. Pueblo, Colorado, had the highest homicide rate in the state with 11.1 killings per 100,000 residents. Aurora, Colorado’s homicide rate more than doubled from 2014. Additionally, more places in Colorado were robbed and more thefts occurred, especially cars, as 193,115 motor vehicles were reported stolen, up 27.7 percent in 2015 from the previous year. In 2015, sexual assaults rose 10 percent in Colorado with Denver, Aurora, Lakewood, Westminster, and Pueblo all reporting higher numbers as well.

[lz_bulleted_list title=”Marijuana-Related Crimes in Denver” source=”]The Denver police department has seen a 900% increase in the unlawful cultivation and manufacture of marijuana concentrate, and a 99% increase in the unlawful distribution of marijuana and marijuana concentrate.|Unlawful public consumption of marijuana citations have increased over 300% per year since the legalization of recreational marijuana.|The quantity of illegal marijuana seized by the Denver police has increased 3,424% on average per case.[/lz_bulleted_list]

He added that in Denver, since the legalization of recreational marijuana, crime has grown by about 44 percent, and it’s grown in every neighborhood, according to annual figures the city provided to the National Incident Based Reporting System. “The murder rate hit a decade high, 1059 more cars were broken into, there were 903 more auto thefts, 321 more aggravated assaults, and 231 more homes were broken into compared to 2014,” he added.

For those claiming legalization efforts nationwide will free up law enforcement, Morrissey said that hasn’t been the case, either. “Police in Denver are busier enforcing marijuana laws and investigating crimes directly related to marijuana, including murders, robberies, and home invasions, than at any other time in the history of the city.”

Sabet said DA Morrissey has an impeccable record of being fair and honest and it was important to hear from a department that deals with the issue every day.

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“I think it made a lot of people angry in Colorado who rely on the status quo and who rely on the marijuana industry. But I think DA Morrissey was very honest, and it’s really important for other states to hear about it,” Sabet told LifeZette.

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As for any pushback Morrissey is getting on the letter, Lynn Kimbrough, communications director in the DA’s office, said Morrissey “always has, and will continue, to respond to inquiries and questions with factual information, even if it isn’t popular.”

She added that the DA takes no position on any ballot measure in any state. “The letter that you refer to was only written as a response to two questions that he was asked — has the crime rate gone down and have law enforcement resources been freed up to focus on other crimes,” she said.