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Niforatos: They told us legalizing marijuana was about personal freedom

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Luke Niforatos is a resident of Denver, Colorado and serves as Executive Vice President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM)

A new bill formally introduced last week seeks to legalize marijuana in Wyoming. On its face, some folks may think weed is no big deal, but as a resident of Colorado, take it from me: you don’t want to see Big Pot’s stores on every street corner.

Legalizing marijuana means commercializing it. And the weed you’ll find in today’s pot shops is nothing like the stuff grown out on the back forty of ranches. Today’s marijuana “buds” regularly contain up to 30% THC while the increasingly popular concentrates, such as dabs and vape pens, contain upward of 99% THC – the main, psychoactive compound in marijuana that gets a user “high.”

Research shows that marijuana use, especially heavy use, is linked with greater risks of serious mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, psychosis and suicidal thoughts. We know this from years of available research on marijuana featuring THC levels between 3-5%. When it comes to higher potency pot, we are in uncharted territory.

And while those who support legalization say a commercial market can be regulated to keep pot out of the hands of kids, think again. Since 2017, marijuana vaping among Colorado high schoolers has increased 70% while the use of marijuana “dabs” – also known as “shatter” – has risen 49%. What’s even more concerning is the fact that among high school students who have used marijuana in the last thirty days, the use of these dabs and shatters rose an astounding 156%. Furthermore, past-month marijuana use among youth 15 and younger in Colorado has increased 14.8% over the last few years.

National surveys have also shown that more and more, young people have more favorable views of marijuana use, and think using it is no big deal. This is a direct result of the message legalization efforts are sending to our kids.

And don’t think for a second that it will be easy to regulate this industry. As numerous studies have shown high concentrations of THC are linked to severe mental illness, efforts have been led to limit THC potency in pot products -- only to be shot down by the pot lobby. This is due to the fact that, in Colorado, Big Pot has become of the of most influential political movers and shakers, spending millions to roll back regulations and elect pro-pot politicians.

Marijuana legalization not only results in harms to mental health, it has also proven to make Colorado much less safe.

A 2017 analysis by The Denver Post found the number of people dying at the hands of marijuana-impaired drivers in Colorado more than doubled since the implementation of commercialization, and in just the last year, marijuana-related DUI’s across Colorado were up 48%. A recent AAA study found similar stoned driving increases in Washington.

And legalization has been great for drug cartels and the illicit market.

In California and Colorado, criminal syndicates are buying up houses in subdivisions and using human trafficking to set up and staff elaborate grow ops. Governor Gavin Newsome was even forced to send the state’s national guard to combat massive illegal grows on public lands. These grows – which are rapidly spreading in legal states – present unique dangers to local wildlife and other natural resources.

And for those playing by state rules in this federally illegal industry, massive corporations are quickly lining up behind legalization efforts and laying the groundwork for the “Walmartization” of the pot industry. Big Tobacco giant Altria has invested billions into marijuana companies and vaping technology as cigarette sales continue to fall, and they have even officially began lobbying in support of commercialization in Virginia. Other large companies from the alcohol and pharmaceutical industries are making their moves, too. In fact, the former head of marketing at Purdue Pharma went on to head up a pot company.

They told us here in Colorado that legalizing marijuana was about personal freedom. Instead, we got a massive addiction-for-profit Big Tobacco 2.0 industry hell-bent on addicting our kids and creating even bigger government.

Don’t be fooled.

Luke Niforatos is a resident of Denver, Colorado and serves as Executive Vice President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). He can be reached at @lukeNiforatos.

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