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Published on Friday, January 16, 2015

Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police hosts conference on marijuana and public health

AWC Government Relations Analyst Jane Wall travelled to Denver this week to attend the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police’s conference on marijuana legalization and its impact on public health and safety. Jane joined over 500 public policy makers, law enforcement, and elected officials from around the nation and world to discuss, share, and learn about the impact of medical and recreational marijuana. Presenters used their time to counsel conference attendees on Colorado’s experience and the lessons learned in this shift in public policy. Much of their experience is similar to Washington, but Washington has also fared better in some aspects. Colorado began selling recreational marijuana on January 1, 2014, while Washington started in July of the same year. This six month period allowed Washington the opportunity of learning from Colorado’s experiences, including learning from some of its unfortunate incidents. Braving snow, cold and the suburban sprawl of Denver, Jane spent three days learning about marijuana’s impact in an array of subject areas. Sessions included:

  • Marijuana’s impact on youth: One of the more compelling sessions of the conference were the panels dedicated to covering the impact marijuana legalization has had on youth. Colorado has seen an alarming increase in youth exposure to, and use of, marijuana. Policy makers expressed concern that youth now perceive marijuana as safe because it is legal. Policy makers and law enforcement spoke about the importance of talking to youth about marijuana use and the consequences that result from using marijuana at a young age. Specifically, presenters stressed the importance of community involvement, including participation from public health officials and law enforcement, on education and prevention campaigns. Presenters also spoke about the growing edibles market and the allure these have with youth. Washington was able to learn lessons from Colorado’s experiences and has placed stricter guidelines on edibles.
  • Local control: Almost all panelists stressed the importance of local control in both the recreational and medical marijuana spheres. Local control proves to be very important in stemming youth use, as well as levying public health, prevention, and education campaigns.
  • Public health: A number of panelists spoke about public health impacts, including medical researchers and doctors. Their perspectives spoke to both the benefits and risks associated with marijuana, with all agreeing far greater research and data collection needs to happen.
  • Medical marijuana: Like Washington, Colorado is also struggling to reconcile its medical marijuana industry. While Colorado has gone to far greater lengths in establishing rules and regulations around medical marijuana, it continues to be plagued with the same issues Washington faces. Tens of thousands of patients continue to register for medical cards, a phenomena initially unexpected after the passage of recreational marijuana laws. Colorado also continues to deal with a small number of collective gardens that are in actuality fronts for large-scale, illegal international trafficking rings.
  • Data collection: Colorado continues to remain ahead of Washington in its data collection of medical and recreational marijuana impacts. In August 2014, the Rocky Mountain High Drug Intensity Trafficking Area released its second annual report on marijuana impacts in Colorado. This report provides a detailed and comprehensive look at the medical and recreational industries in Colorado and their impacts on everything from impaired driving, youth and adult use, hospitalizations and diversion of Colorado marijuana outside of the state.
  • State and federal regulations: Federal District attorneys presented the federal government’s perspective on marijuana legalization. Recreational marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, but a growing number of states are legalizing or decriminalizing the drug. Panelists discussed the 2013 Justice Department opinion, also known as the Cole Memo, that outlined the federal government’s stance on Washington and Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana, as well as provided thoughts on moving forward.

For detailed information covered at the conference check out the agenda and overview here.