In 2012 Coloradans approved Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana for recreational use, by a vote of 55 percent to 45 percent. Last February a Quinnipiac University poll found that 58 percent of Colorado voters supported that decision, while 38 percent opposed it and the rest weren’t sure.
For prohibitionists determined to portray marijuana legalization in Colorado as a disaster, those poll results are inconvenient, since they indicate that public support for Amendment 64 was higher after more than a year of legal recreational sales and more than two years of legal possession and home cultivation than it was in 2012. Honest drug warriors would acknowledge the Quinnipiac numbers and perhaps try to balance them with other poll results. Dishonest drug warriors would do what the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA) does in its new report on marijuana legalization: change the numbers.
The RMHIDTA, a federally supported task force dedicated to suppressing marijuana and other illegal drugs, claims only 50 percent of Colorado voters supported legalization in that Quinnipiac survey—eight points lower than the actual result. It also understates the 2012 vote for Amendment 64 by a point, but the comparison still supports the story that the task force wants to tell: The consequences of legalization in Colorado have been so bad that public support for the policy already has fallen.
Even assuming that the RMHIDTA’s misrepresentation of the Quinnipiac survey was a mistake, the direction of the error is not random. You can be sure that if the report had overstated support for legalization by eight points, someone would have caught it before the text was finalized. Which underlines a point that should be obvious by now: Despite its pose as a dispassionate collector of facts, the RMHIDTA, which issued similar reports in 2013 and 2014, is committed to the position that legalization was a huge mistake, and every piece of information it presents is aimed at supporting that predetermined conclusion. So even when the task force does not simply make stuff up, it filters and slants the evidence to play up the purported costs of legalization while ignoring the benefits. Here are some examples of what I mean.
The report says “there was a 32 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths” after legal recreational sales began in 2014” (emphasis in the original). Here is an interesting fact about “marijuana-related traffic deaths”: They do not necessarily have anything to do with marijuana. The report uses this phrase to describe fatalities from accidents involving vehicle operators who “tested positive for marijuana,” which could indicate the presence of inactive metabolites or THC levels so low that they had no impact on driving performance. A positive result does not mean a driver was impaired at the time of the crash, let alone that marijuana contributed to the accident.
As the report emphasizes in another chapter, adult marijuana use has been rising in Colorado since 2006. You would expect the percentage of drivers who “test positive for marijuana”—whether or not they are impaired and whether or not they get into accidents—to rise as well. It is not clear to what extent recent increases in what the RMHIDTA insists on calling “marijuana-related traffic deaths” are due to this population-wide trend and to what extent they are due to an increase in dangerously impaired drivers. The task force seems determined to obscure this crucial distinction.
Read full story here.