Communities of Color

Unfortunately, the marijuana industry—comprised almost entirely of white men—has targeted communities of color, despite promises to the contrary.  This should, perhaps, not be surprising:  the tobacco and alcohol industries have long targeted such communities.  One Johns Hopkins study revealed that predominantly African-American neighborhoods in Baltimore were eight times more likely to have carry-out liquor stores than racially mixed or white neighborhoods.[1]  And tobacco companies have historically placed larger amounts of advertising in African-American publications, exposing African-Americans to more cigarette ads than whites,[2] and have marketed more harmful and more addictive products to them.[3]

The marijuana industry is already copying the Big Tobacco playbook in Colorado. There, marijuana use is up overall. And in Denver, pot businesses are concentrated in lower-income, neighborhoods of color—one lower-income neighborhood has a pot business for every 47 residents.[4]

Moreover, in the two years after Colorado legalized marijuana, the number of Hispanic and black kids arrested for marijuana-related offenses rose 29 and 58 percent, respectively.  In the same period, the number of white kids being arrested for identical crimes dropped eight percent. [5]

[1] Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Off-Premises Liquor Stores Targeted to Poor Urban Blacks. 2000.

[2] CDC. African Americans and tobacco use. CDC, 17 Aug. 2016; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups—African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office on Smoking and Health, 1998.

[3] CDC. African Americans and tobacco use. CDC, 17 Aug. 2016; National Cancer Institute. The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use. Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph No. 19, NIH Pub. No. 07-6242, June 2008; Gardiner PS. The African Americanization of Menthol Cigarette Use in the United States. Nicotine and Tobacco Research 2004; 6:Suppl 1:S55-65; Ton HT, Smart AE, Aguilar BL, et al. Menthol enhances the desensitization of human alpha3beta4 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. Mol Pharmacol 2015;88(2):256-64; Menthol Cigarettes. Bethesda (MD): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, 2015.

[4] Migoya, David, and Baca, Ricardo. “Denver’s pot businesses mostly in low-income, minority neighborhoods”. The Denver Post, 2 Jan. 2016.

[5] Colorado Department of Public Safety, Division of Criminal Justice, Office of Research and Statistics. Marijuana Legalization in Colorado: Early Findings. Denver, Mar. 2016.

Public Health Impact

The addictive nature and negative health effects of marijuana are numerous.  A 2017 report by National Academy of Sciences (NAS) written by top scientists, entitled The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research, concluded after a review of over 10,000 peer-reviewed academic articles, that marijuana use is connected to a number of problems, including:

  • respiratory problems;
  • mental health issues (like psychosis, social anxiety, and thoughts of suicide);
  • increased risk of car accidents;
  • progression to and dependence on tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs;
  • learning, memory, and attention loss (possibly permanent in some cases);
  • and low birth weight.[1]

A study from March 2017 says that “clear associations exist between cannabis use status in young adulthood and subsequent mental health and substance use.” As our country grapples with high mental illness and addiction rates, expanding the use of marijuana would be irresponsible.

Notably, NAS report also stated that, “in states where cannabis use is legal, there is increased risk of unintentional cannabis overdose injuries among children.”[2]  This connection with children is particularly pertinent given the rise in use by Colorado youth since Legalization.  The only nationally representative study on marijuana use, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), indicates that Colorado leads the nation in last-month marijuana use among kids aged 12 to 17 years.[3]  It also shows that use among that age group has been increasing an average of one percent per year[4]since Legalization, while use across the nation is falling.[5]

[1] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2017. The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: Current state of evidence and recommendations for research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

[2] Id.

[3] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD: Office of Applied Studies, SAMHSA. 2016.

[4] The state-by-state NSDUH data is produced annually, but is calculated using overlapping two-year periods (e.g., 2011-2012, 2012-2013, 2013-2014, etc.).  In this instance, yearly change is between two of those periods:  2011-2012 to 2012-2013, and so forth.

[5] In contrast, recent headlines claiming that use has not gone up in Colorado derive from an analysis of results from a state study, the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS). State studies like HKCS often feed into the Centers for Disease Control Youth Behavior Risk Survey (YRBS). The HKCS, however, has been excluded from the CDC’s YRBS survey because of its unreliability, for two reasons. First, it suffers from serious methodological flaws.  It is not a representative sample of Colorado schools, and excludes both the second most-populous and third-most populous counties altogether (Jefferson and Douglas Counties, respectively).  It also omits schools in El Paso County, home to Colorado Springs, and excludes kids across the state who are not in school (e.g., dropouts).  Also, the survey designers decided, without explanation, to set the threshold for statistical significance far higher, meaning that differences that would usually be statistically significant would not appear to be so under the new standard.  Thus, the HKCS methodology is so flawed that the CDC does not use it for its YRBS survey. Second, a deeper dig of the HKCS results reveals distressing news.  Youth use has risen statewide since Legalization according to the survey, at about the same rate tobacco use has fallen in that same timeframe.  Moreover, this increase since 2013 halted a four-year trend of declining marijuana use—the turning point occurred exactly when the state legalized pot.  Nonetheless, most press coverage has glossed over these points.

Legalization will reinforce, not diminish, the black market for marijuana

Perhaps most importantly, LEGALIZATION will roll out the red carpet for a larger black market for pot than currently exists.  Although this may initially sound counterintuitive, a closer look at what has happened in Colorado (where non-medical marijuana was legalized in 2012) and in Oregon (where non-medical marijuana was legalized in 2014) reveals why.

A leaked January 2017 report from the Oregon State Police states that “cannabis Legalization has not had a noticeable effect on Mexican [drug trafficking organizations’] illicit cannabis cultivation operations on public lands.”[1]  It also indicates that “only 30 percent of [Oregon’s marijuana] market activity is captured in legal transactions.”[2]  That means over two-thirds of Oregon’s marijuana transactions are illegal.

Similarly, in February 2015, years after Legalization passed, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman told reporters: “The criminals are still selling on the black market. … We have plenty of cartel activity in Colorado [and] plenty of illegal activity that has not decreased at all.”[3]  Hard data supports this claim:  organized crime filings have skyrocketed in Colorado. The state had one such filing in 2007 and by 2015, it had 40.[4]

The surge in black marketeering derives from organized criminal groups “hiding in plain sight” in legalized states.[5]  Marijuana growing and sales no longer attract the type of attention they did prior to Legalization—and the taxes imposed on state-legalized pot necessary to pay for all the bureaucratic oversight create a large demand for cheaper product that the black market easily fills.  House Bill 5555 will create similar incentives, including:

  • Permitting personal possession of large amounts of marijuana, enough to engage in extensive black market activity—up to five ounces of marijuana per residence (enough for ~200 to 300 single-use joints).
  • Allowing cultivation of significant amounts of marijuana in a residence—up to two plants per person or three plants per dwelling unit. A decent gardener with the proper equipment can generate a pound of marijuana per year per plant.  If the product is of reasonable quality, a single residence can produce over ten thousand dollars of marijuana per year at retail prices.

Legalization will Increase Drugged Driving

Marijuana-impaired driving is increasingly responsible for traffic fatalities in Colorado and Washington since pot Legalization was established there. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the percentage of traffic deaths related to marijuana doubled in Washington State the year retail marijuana sales were allowed.[6] In Colorado, marijuana is now involved in more than one of every five deaths on the road, and that number is rising.[7]  Moreover, since the average cost to society of a traffic fatality, per the U.S. Department of Transportation, is over $6 million, the rising rate of pot-related traffic deaths implies large economic and social costs.[8]

[1] Oregon State Police. A Baseline Evaluation of Cannabis Enforcement Priorities In Oregon. 2017, available at:

[2] Id.

[3] “Special report, ‘Clearing the haze:’ Black market is thriving in Colorado.” Colorado Springs Gazette, 20 Mar. 2015. Retrieved from

[4] California Secretary of State. California General Election Tuesday November 8, 2016: Official Voter Information Guide. 2016.

[5] Durbin, Kaitlin. “Colorado Springs mayor: Day of reckoning coming for city’s illegal marijuana growers,” Colorado Springs Gazette. 28 May 2016; Gurman, Sadie. “Drug traffickers ‘hiding in plain sight’ amid legal Colorado marijuana.” The Cannabist. 28 Jan. 2016.

[6] AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Prevalence of Marijuana Involvement in Fatal Crashes: Washington, 2010-2014. May 2016; Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Driver Toxicology Testing and the Involvement of Marijuana in Fatal Crashes, 2010-2014. Feb. 2016; Kaste, Martin. “More Washington drivers use pot and drive; effect on safety disputed.” 19 Aug. 2015.

[7] Fatality Analysis Reporting System and Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), as reported in Rocky Mountain HIDTA Investigative Support Center Strategic Intelligence Unit. The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact, Volume 4. Sept. 2016. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

[8] U.S. Department of Transportation, Treatment Of The Economic Value Of A Statistical Life In Departmental Analyses – 2011 Interim Adjustment. 2011 (USDOT guidance on valuing reduction of fatalities and injuries by regulations or investments and setting value of life at $6.2 million in 2011 dollars), available at