Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 24, 20176min5650

Colorado regulates marijuana just fine, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman say in a co-authored letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“The State of Colorado has worked diligently to implement the will of our citizens and build a comprehensive regulatory and enforcement system that prioritizes public safety and public health,” the Democratic governor and Republican state attorney general wrote. “When abuses and unintended consequences materialize, the state has acted quickly to address any resulting harms.”

The governor’s office released the five-page letter Thursday afternoon in reply to a letter Sessions sent Hickenlooper a month ago. Sessions told the governor that the feds have “serious questions” about recreational cannabis that was legalized in Colorado in 2012.

He cited a report from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area on illegally exported marijuana, increased use by young people, and increased traffic deaths related to marijuana.

More independent studies have found the opposite to be true. HIDTA is part of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy.

In the letter to Hickenlooper last month, Sessions wrote, “Please advise as to how Colorado plans to address the serious findings in the Rocky Mountain HIDTA report, including efforts to ensure that all marijuana activity is compliant with state marijuana laws, to combat diversion of marijuana, to protect public health and safety, and to prevent marijuana use by minors.”

In their response, Hickenlooper and Coffman cited other data that showed those statistics cited by HIDTA to be wrong or misleading.

“The State of Colorado shares the federal government’s desire to establish strong controls around the production and sale of marijuana in the interest of protecting public safety, public health and other law enforcement interests,” they told Sessions. “We stand ready to work with our federal partners to strengthen our regulatory system and continue our collaborative enforcement efforts.”

In the detailed letter, Hickenlooper and Coffman point to comprehensive state efforts to combat illegal diversion from Colorado to other markets, stating, “Preventing diversion is among the state’s top priorities.” The state leaders pointed to inventory controls and enforcement to prevent diversion. Colorado has established a so-called “seed-to-sale” tracking system so that all legal inventory is accounted for.

Still, issues around people abusing the legal system in Colorado have proven problematic, as some use loopholes to grow legally at home, and then divert the marijuana illegally out of state. This scheme has been labeled the “gray market.” State lawmakers this year took aggressive action to curb such practices, limiting growing marijuana at home to 12 plants in most circumstances.

Hickenlooper and Coffman also outlined actions taken by the state to limit use by minors. A state survey on teen marijuana use found that teen use has not increased since the state legalized the drug. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s “Healthy Kids Colorado Survey” released in 2016 revealed that 4 out of 5 high school students continue to say they don’t use marijuana, even occasionally.

The survey represented a holding trend, as a report from 2014 showed that teen marijuana use had slightly decreased since legalization.

The state has spent $22 million in marijuana tax revenue on public education campaigns aimed at discouraging minors from using marijuana.

“Reducing marijuana use among our youth will remain a top priority for the state,” the letter states.

Regarding traffic accidents related to marijuana use, Colorado enacted laws aimed at preventing driving under the influence, Coffman and Hickenlooper point out. Officers have also been trained in how to spot drivers under the influence of marijuana.

In the first six months of 2017, the number of drivers State Patrol considered impaired by marijuana dropped 21 percent compared to the first six months of 2016, the letter states. Studies are unclear as to the impact legalization has had on traffic accidents. Some studies show a slight increase in accidents, while others show statistics remaining flat.

On the subject of emergency room visits related to marijuana, the state health department found that marijuana-related visits fell 27 percent from 2014 to 2015, when the most recent data was available. Marijuana exposure calls fell 12 percent between 2015 and 2016.

“State health officials attribute the initial increase in emergency department visits and exposures to a few primary factors, including a greater willingness, post legalization, among health professionals to inquire about marijuana use and among individuals to report it; unsafe consumption of edible marijuana products; and accidental ingestion of marijuana,” the letter continues.

Education campaigns have limited those incidents, Hickenlooper and Coffman state. Limiting the THC content of edible products and precise labeling has also helped.

“Colorado’s system has become a model for other states and nations,” the letter concludes. “We stand ready to work with our federal partners to fortify what we have built.”


Ernest LuningErnest LuningAugust 20, 201722min1291

Doug Robinson compares winning the Republican nomination for governor of Colorado to getting hired after a really long job interview, and he believes his background and experience will give him the edge. One of seven declared GOP candidates for next year’s election — with at least three heavyweights waiting in the wings — Robinson speaks highly of his leading primary opponents but suggests his experience founding and running a financial firm that advised technology companies sets him apart.


Kara MasonKara MasonAugust 18, 20173min1311

Will there be more inmates headed for the state’s prison capital? Since May, people have been saying it’s possible under a Trump administration that’s vowing to get tougher on crime.

This week in the print edition of the Economist, Cañon City councilman Frank Jaquez said area prisons, a mix of federal and state, aren’t filled to the brim and he’s glad it’s that way.

As pointed out in the article, the number of people in Fremont County’s prisons has been on the decline:

 The state-prison population in Colorado declined by 7.2% between 2010 and 2015. In 2012, the state closed a prison it had opened in Cañon City only two years before, due to a dearth of inmates. Since its peak in 2013, the federal-prison population has also fallen.

There are 13 prisons in Fremont County. They range from housing the worst of the worst at ADX, where some are in lockdown 23 hours per day, to low-security prisons that feature a plethora of work programs.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year ordered federal prosecutors to seek stricter punishment for drug offenses. It’s a reversal from the Obama administration, which sought to reduce the number of people serving long prison sentences for low-level drug crimes.

With more low-level drug offenses landing people in prison, there may be a spike in the prison population in Fremont County.

The Economist asked local lawmakers if the recent orders would be good for business. But none of the city council members in Cañon City or the commissioners in Fremont County would admit the policy would make a fiscal difference, the article said.

“…local officials doubt it will have too big an impact on the area, mainly because state prisons are a more important source of employment—and, even then, the jobs are not directly tied to prisoner numbers. Cañon City also shows how even if federal policies on crime are going backwards, the politics has not necessarily followed.”


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 4, 20173min2790

The Trump administration’s top cop wants to know how Colorado will tackle the troubling findings of a year-old federal report on pot’s use and ill-effects in the region since legalization. That’s the gist of a letter Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper received Thursday from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to a report today in The Cannabist,

A key passage of the letter — obtained by The Cannabist — reads almost like a demand by the feds:

“These findings are relevant to the policy debate concerning marijuana legalization. I appreciate your offer to engage in a continuing dialogue on this important issue. To that end, please advise as to how Colorado plans to address the serious findings in the Rocky Mountain HIDTA report, including efforts to ensure that all marijuana activity is compliant with state marijuana laws, to combat diversion of marijuana, to protect public health and safety, and to prevent marijuana use by minors. I also am open to suggestions on marijuana policy and related matters as we work to carry out our duties to effectively and faithfully execute the laws of the United States.”

Sessions, a hardline foe of legalization, has been engaged in a standoff for months with Colorado and other states that have legalized recreational marijuana. The Cannabist reports Washington Gov. Jay Inslee received a similar letter.

The letter to Hickenlooper, dated July 24, is a reply to an April letter sent by Hick and Inslee as well as the governors of Alaska and Oregon — all states that have legalized and regulated cannabis use, sales and production — to Sessions and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. That letter had asked the federal officials to “engage with us before embarking on any changes to regulatory and enforcement systems.”

The lengthy report’s findings include increases in highway patrol seizures, youth use, traffic deaths and emergency-room visits since legalization.

Hickenlooper’s point man on pot, meanwhile, seemed to downplay the letter’s significance.

“We take (this letter) as an opportunity to continue the conversation that we’ve worked on for the past several months,” the governor’s marijuana-policy adviser, Mark Bolton, told the Cannabist. When asked if he thought Sessions’s letter hinted at a federal crackdown, Bolton told the publication, “We don’t take it that way.”

He also said the Hickenlooper administration takes the issues raised in the letter “very seriously.” His office is preparing a response.