Facts and Figures

It is critical that we are honest and accurate at all times when we are discussing the issue with voters. The facts are on our side, so please be sure to convey them correctly and without embellishment. 

Click on the links below to review the facts on marijuana. As you will see, they correspond to the campaign's talking points regarding its relative safety compared to alcohol and the failure of prohibition.

Marijuana vs. Alcohol

•  Impact on the Consumer

•  Impact on the Community

Benefits of Regulating Marijuana

•  Further Reduce Teen Use

•  Minimize Teen Access

•  Reduce Exposure to More Dangerous Drugs

•  Take Sales Out of the Hands of Criminals

Frequently Asked Questions

•  Health Effects

•  Effects of Prohibition

Industrial Hemp

 


Marijuana vs. Alcohol

Impact on the Consumer

Many people die from alcohol use. Nobody dies from marijuana use.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 37,000 annual U.S. deaths, including more than 1,400 in Colorado, are attributed to alcohol use alone (i.e. this figure does not include accidental deaths). On the other hand, the CDC does not even have a category for deaths caused by the use of marijuana.

People die from alcohol overdoses. There has never been a fatal marijuana overdose.

The official publication of the Scientific Research Society, American Scientist, reported that alcohol is one of the most toxic drugs and using just 10 times what one would use to get the desired effect could lead to death. Marijuana is one of – if not the – least toxic drugs, requiring thousands of times the dose one would use to get the desired effect to lead to death. This “thousands of times” is actually theoretical, since there has never been a case of an individual dying from a marijuana overdose. Meanwhile, according to the CDC, hundreds of alcohol overdose deaths occur the United States each year.

The health-related costs associated with alcohol use far exceed those for marijuana use.

Health-related costs for alcohol consumers are eight times greater than those for marijuana consumers, according to an assessment recently published in the British Columbia Mental Health and Addictions Journal. More specifically, the annual cost of alcohol consumption is $165 per user, compared to just $20 per user for marijuana. This should not come as a surprise given the vast amount of research that shows alcohol poses far more – and more significant – health problems than marijuana.

Alcohol use damages the brain. Marijuana use does not.

Despite the myths we've heard throughout our lives about marijuana killing brain cells, it turns out that a growing number of studies seem to indicate that marijuana actually has neuroprotective properties. This means that it works to protect brain cells from harm. For example, one recent study found that teens who used marijuana as well as alcohol suffered significantly less damage to the white matter in their brains. Of course, what is beyond question is that alcohol damages brain cells.

Alcohol use is linked to cancer. Marijuana use is not.

Alcohol use is associated with a wide variety of cancers, including cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, lungs, pancreas, liver and prostate. Marijuana use has not been conclusively associated with any form of cancer. In fact, one study recently contradicted the long-time government claim that marijuana use is associated with head and neck cancers. It found that marijuana use actually reduced the likelihood of head and neck cancers. If you are concerned about marijuana being associated with lung cancer, you may be interested in the results of the largest case-controlled study ever conducted to investigate the respiratory effects of marijuana smoking and cigarette smoking. Released in 2006, the study, conducted by Dr. Donald Tashkin at the University of California at Los Angeles, found that marijuana smoking was not associated with an increased risk of developing lung cancer. Surprisingly, the researchers found that people who smoked marijuana actually had lower incidences of cancer compared to non-users of the drug.

Alcohol is more addictive than marijuana.

Addiction researchers have consistently reported that marijuana is far less addictive than alcohol based on a number of factors. In particular, alcohol use can result in significant and potentially fatal physical withdrawal, whereas marijuana has not been found to produce any symptoms of physical withdrawal. Those who use alcohol are also much more likely to develop dependence and build tolerance.

Alcohol use increases the risk of injury to the consumer. Marijuana use does not.

Many people who have consumed alcohol or know others who have consumed alcohol would not be surprised to hear that it greatly increases the risk of serious injury. Research published this year in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, found that 36 percent of hospitalized assaults and 21 percent of all injuries are attributable to alcohol use by the injured person. Meanwhile, the American Journal of Emergency Medicine reported that lifetime use of marijuana is rarely associated with emergency room visits. According to the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, this is because: "Cannabis differs from alcohol … in one major respect. It does not seem to increase risk-taking behavior. This means that cannabis rarely contributes to violence either to others or to oneself, whereas alcohol use is a major factor in deliberate self-harm, domestic accidents and violence." Interestingly enough, some research has even shown that marijuana use has been associated with a decreased risk of injury.

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Impact on the Community

Alcohol use contributes to aggressive and violent behavior. Marijuana use does not.

Studies have repeatedly shown that alcohol, unlike marijuana, contributes to the likelihood of aggessive and violent behavior. An article published in the Journal of Addictive Behaviors reported that "alcohol is clearly the drug with the most evidence to support a direct intoxication-violence relationship," whereas "cannabis reduces the likelihood of violence during intoxication."

Alcohol use is a major factor in violent crimes. Marijuana use is not.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that 25-30% of violent crimes in the United States are linked to the use of alcohol. According to a report from the U.S. Dept. of Justice, that translates to about 5,000,000 alcohol-related violent crimes per year. By contrast, the government does not even track violent acts specifically related to marijuana use, as the use of marijuana has not been associated with violence. (Of course, we should note that marijuana prohibition, by creating a widespread criminal market, is associated with acts of violence.)

Alcohol use contributes to the likelihood of domestic abuse and sexual assault. Marijuana use does not.

Alcohol is a major contributing factor in the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault. This is not to say that alcohol causes these problems; rather, its use makes it more likely that an individual prone to such behavior will act on it. For example, a study conducted by the Research Institute on Addictions found that among individuals who were chronic partner abusers, the use of alcohol was associated with significant increases in the daily likelihood of male-to-female physical aggression, but the use of marijuana was not. Specifically, the odds of abuse were eight times higher on days when men were drinking; the odds of severe abuse were 11 times higher. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) website highlights alcohol as the "most commonly used chemical in crimes of sexual assault" and provides information on an array of other drugs that have been linked to sexual violence. Given the fact that marijuana is so accessible and widely used, it is quite telling that the word "marijuana" does not appear anywhere on the page.

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Regulating Marijuana Works

Further Reduce Teen Marijuana Use

According to the latest report from the federal government, marijuana use by Colorado high school students has dropped since our state and its localities began regulating medical marijuana in 2009. This bucks the national trend of increasing teen marijuana use over the past several years. Nationwide, past-30-day marijuana use among high school students climbed from 20.8 percent in 2009, to 23.1 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, in Colorado, it dropped from 24.8 percent to 22 percent. See graph at right.

It was during this same two-year period that Colorado enacted strict state and local regulations on the sale of marijuana for medical purposes, whereas no such regulations were implemented throughout the rest of the country. This suggests that even the partial regulation of marijuana could decrease its availability and use among teens. Amendment 64 would regulate marijuana sales across the board for all adults 21 and older, further reducing teen use.

Earlier this year, research on the impact of medical marijuana laws on teen use arrived at a similar conclusion. In a press release about the study issued by the University of Colorado Denver, the researchers said there is “no statistical evidence that legalization increases the probability of [teen] use,” and noted that "the data often showed a negative relationship between legalization and [teen] marijuana use.”

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Minimize Teen Access

Marijuana prohibition, in which unregulated sales take place in an underground market, is the worst possible policy when it comes to keeping marijuana out of the hands of teens. In fact, there is substantial evidence that it is actually increasing its accessibility to young people. By forcing marijuana into an underground market, we are guaranteeing that sales will be entirely uncontrolled and that the individuals selling it will not ask for ID. Under Amendment 64, marijuana sales will be conducted in a regulated market in which checks for proof of age are mandatory and strictly enforced.

Despite marijuana’s illegal status, teens consistently report that marijuana is universally available, and surveys show high school students across the nation can buy marijuana easier than they can buy alcohol or tobacco. Strictly regulating these legal products and restricting sales to minors have lent to significant decreases in use and availability among teens, and there is little doubt we would see similar results with marijuana.

The High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey released this June by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) highlights the need to regulate marijuana. It found that levels of teen marijuana use are increasing nationwide, whereas levels of alcohol and cigarette use among teens are decreasing. In other words, regulation is working; prohibition is not. See graph above.

According to the survey, significantly more teens in the United States are using marijuana than cigarettes. Just more than 23 percent of high school students nationwide reported using marijuana within 30 days of taking the latest survey, up from 20.8 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, 18.1 percent reported past-30-day cigarette use, down from 19.5 percent in 2009. Over the past several years, the survey has shown that cigarette use and availability among teens, which had been sharply increasing in the early 1990s, began steadily declining shortly after the 1995 implementation of the "We Card" program, a renewed commitment to strictly restricting the sale of tobacco to young people, along with a focused effort on public education.

It is also worth noting that the latest CDC survey found that, since Colorado began regulating medical marijuana, there has been a significant decline in students reporting that they have been “offered, sold, or given an illegal drug by someone on school property." From 2009 to 2011, it dropped from 22.7 percent to 17.2 percent in 2011, whereas at the national level it increased from 22.7 percent to 25.6 percent. These statistics suggest that not only does the increased regulation of marijuana reduce use among teens; it may actually reduce teens' access to illegal drugs.

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Reduce Exposure to More Dangerous Drugs

By keeping marijuana illegal, we are forcing those who seek it into an underground market where it is sold exclusively by individuals who are willing to break the law. Naturally, some of these individuals will have other illegal products available, including drugs that are far more harmful than marijuana.  

“The more users become integrated in an environment where, apart from cannabis, hard drugs can also be obtained, the greater the chance they may switch to hard drugs,” according to a report published in 1997 by the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction. “Separation of the drug markets is therefor essential.”

Amendment 64 would regulate marijuana and restrict its sale to licensed stores, as we currently do with alcohol. In doing so, it will dramatically reduce consumers’ exposure to harder drugs and their temptation to experiment with them. It will also ensure that consumers know what they are getting when they purchase marijuana. Illegal marijuana dealers are not subject to quality standards, and they are not testing or labeling their products. In a regulated marijuana system, such as that proposed by Amendment 64, marijuana producers and retailers will need to adhere to strict rules and regulations similar to those governing the production and sale of alcohol.

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Take Sales Out of the Hands of Criminals

Marijuana prohibition has relegated the sale of marijuana to criminal enterprises and, increasingly, drug gangs. In doing so, it is exposing many consumers to more harmful people. And since marijuana is illegal, these individuals are unable to rely on law enforcement officials to step in when business-related disputes and incidents occur. All too often, this results in violence that affects not just marijuana dealers and consumers, but the broader communities surrounding them.

Marijuana is also a significant source of income for individuals and groups involved in other criminal activities. For example, much of the violence escalating on the Mexican border revolves around the actions of Mexican drug cartels fighting over profits from marijuana sales. In fact, former U.S. Drug Czar John Walters told the Associated Press in 2008, that marijuana is the biggest source of income for these ruthless narcoterrorist organizations. Whether they are large-scale drug cartels or small-town street gangs, the vast supply and demand surrounding marijuana will ensure they have a constant stream of profits to subsidize other illegal activities. Regulating marijuana like alcohol would eliminate this income source and, in turn, eliminate the violence and turf battles associated with the illegal marijuana market.

Finally, the illegal marijuana market puts money in criminals' pockets and takes it out of taxpayers'. Drug dealers do not collect taxes on their sales, and they do not pay taxes on their income. Under Amendment 64, all sales of marijuana will be subject to state and local sales tax. The General Assembly must also enact an excise tax of up to 15 percent on wholesale sales of non-medical marijuana, the first $40 million of which will be directed to the state's public school construction fund each year.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Health Effects

Is marijuana addictive?

According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base:

"Compared to most other drugs … dependence among marijuana users is relatively rare … [A]lthough few marijuana users develop dependence, some do. But they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), and marijuana dependence appears to be less severe than dependence on other drugs."

Does using marijuana lead to harder drugs?

According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base:

"There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs … There is no evidence that marijuana serves as a stepping stone on the basis of its particular physiological effect … Instead, the legal status of marijuana makes it a gateway drug."

The World Health Organization noted that any gateway effect associated with marijuana use may actually be due to marijuana prohibition because "exposure to other drugs when purchasing cannabis on the black-market, increases the opportunity to use other illicit drugs."

Is marijuana more dangerous than tobacco?

In a word: no. Marijuana is not more dangerous than tobacco. Research has shown that marijuana causes far less harm than tobacco. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, tobacco was responsible for 435,000 deaths in 2000, or nearly 1,200 deaths per day. On the other hand, marijuana has never caused a fatal overdose in more than 5,000 years of recorded use.

It is important to note that the act of smoking anything is harmful to the lungs, and in this regard, marijuana is not completely benign. According to Understanding Marijuana (2002), by Mitch Earleywine, marijuana smokers sometimes exhibit symptoms similar to those experienced by tobacco smokers — coughing, wheezing, and bronchitis. However, these harms can be minimized by ingesting marijuana orally, with devices known as vaporizers, or by using higher-potency marijuana, which reduces the harms associated with smoking while still delivering marijuana’s medical benefits. Other research shows that daily marijuana use does not lead to increased rates of respiratory illness, and that smoking both tobacco and marijuana is worse than smoking just one.

Unlike tobacco, research has never shown that marijuana increases rates of lung cancer or other cancers usually associated with cigarette smoking. In a 10-year, 65,000-patient study conducted at the Kaiser-Permanente HMO and published in 1997, cigarette smokers had much higher rates of cancer of the lung, mouth, and throat than non-smokers, but marijuana smokers who didn't smoke tobacco had no such increase. And in May 2006, Dr. Donald Tashkin of UCLA presented results of a new study showing that even very heavy marijuana smokers had no increased risk of lung cancer.

Has anyone ever died from marijuana?

In all of recorded medical literature, no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose.

In 2001, a detailed examination of the health and psychological effects of marijuana use from the National Drug and Alcohol Centre at the University of New South Wales in Australia noted that marijuana "makes no known contribution to deaths and a minor contribution to morbidity [illness]."

In a 1998 editorial, The Lancet, an esteemed British medical journal, wrote, "On the medical evidence available, moderate indulgence in cannabis has little ill-effect on health."

Can marijuana use cause cancer?

Marijuana smokers do not have an increased risk of premature death or cancer. According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base:

"There is no conclusive evidence that marijuana causes cancer in humans, including cancers usually related to tobacco use. … More definitive evidence that habitual marijuana smoking leads or does not lead to respiratory cancer awaits the results of well-designed case control epidemiological studies."

Can marijuana cause fertility problems?

According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base:

"[T]he effect of cannabinoids on the capacity of sperm to fertilize eggs is reversible and is observed at [concentrations] which are higher than those likely to be experienced by marijuana smokers … The well-documented inhibition of reproductive functions by THC is thus not a serious concern for evaluating the short-term medical use of marijuana or specific cannabinoids."

Can marijuana cause other life-threatening health problems?

According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, "Epidemiological data indicate that in the general population marijuana use is not associated with increased mortality."

Does marijuana cause amotivational syndrome?

According to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, "When heavy marijuana use accompanies these symptoms, the drug is often cited as the cause, but no convincing data demonstrate a causal relationship between marijuana smoking and these behavioral characteristics."

I've heard that today's marijuana is stronger and more dangerous. Is this true?

Claims of a dramatic increase in marijuana potency are commonly based on the assertion that marijuana used in the 1960s and 1970s contained only 1% THC (the main psychoactive compound in marijuana). But, as University of Southern California psychology professor and researcher Mitch Earleywine noted in his book, Understanding Marijuana, these claims are based on very small numbers of samples that may have been improperly stored. Furthermore, marijuana with just 1% THC is not psychoactive — that is, it doesn't produce a "high." So if the 1% figure is true, the drug's rapid increase in popularity was based on marijuana so weak that it wasn't even capable of producing the intended effect.

Earleywine further explained that the moderate increases in potency that have occurred "may not justify alarm. THC is not toxic at high doses like alcohol, nicotine, or many other common drugs. High-potency marijuana may actually minimize risk for lung problems because less [smoke] is required to achieve desired effects." Thus, even if today's marijuana were stronger, it would not be more dangerous.

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Effects of Prohibition

Are people actually arrested for marijuana?

Yes. In 2007 alone, there were 872,720 marijuana-related arrests in the United States. (89% of these were for possession alone.) That's one marijuana arrest every 36 seconds and more than the populations of the state of Wyoming (522,830) and the city of Buffalo, New York (292,648) combined.

How much does marijuana prohibition cost?

By adding law enforcement costs and depriving governments of the revenue that could be gained by taxing marijuana sales, prohibition costs U.S. taxpayers $41.8 billion per year, according to a 2007 estimate by public policy researcher Jon B. Gettman, Ph.D. The report, "Lost Taxes and Other Costs of Marijuana Laws," is based primarily on government estimates of the U.S. marijuana supply, prices, and arrests.

A more conservative 2005 estimate by Harvard University economist Dr. Jeffrey Miron is still staggering at $10-$14 billion per year. See www.prohibitioncosts.org for more information.

Wouldn’t repealing marijuana prohibition make it easier for teens to buy marijuana?

Marijuana prohibition has not prevented a dramatic increase in marijuana use by teenagers. In fact, the overall rate of marijuana use in the U.S. has risen by roughly 4,000% since marijuana was first outlawed in 1937, and independent studies by RAND Europe and the U.S. National Research Council have reported that marijuana prohibition appears to have little or no impact on rates of use.

Prohibition may actually increase teen access to marijuana. Sellers of regulated products like tobacco and alcohol can be fined or lose their licenses if they sell to minors. Prohibition guarantees that marijuana dealers are not subject to any such regulations. Drug dealers don't ask for ID.

Countries that have reformed their marijuana laws have not seen an increase in teen use. Since Britain ended most marijuana possession arrests in 2004, the rate of marijuana use by 16- to-19-year-olds (the youngest group included in government drug use surveys) has dropped. In the Netherlands, where adults have been allowed to possess and purchase small amounts of marijuana from regulated businesses since 1976, the rate of marijuana use by adults and teens is lower than in the U.S.

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Industrial Hemp

Hemp is an agricultural crop that is widely cultivated across the globe for its seed and fiber, which are used in paper, textiles, construction materials, fuel, and dietary supplements. If voters approve Amendment 64 in November, it could make Colorado our nation's sole domestic source for industrial hemp and unlock its potential to bolster the state’s economy.

Cultivation of industrial hemp never should have been outlawed.

  • Hemp is genetically similar to marijuana, but it contains less than 0.3% of the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It is illegal to produce in the U.S. because our current laws do not distinguish between the two. Amendment 64 creates separate definitions for marijuana and industrial hemp.
  • The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world that prohibits the commercial production of hemp, and more hemp is exported to the U.S. than to any other country.

Colorado has the opportunity to create a legal and regulated hemp industry.

  • Amendment 64 not only regulates marijuana like alcohol, but also directs the general assembly to regulate the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp.
  • Colorado, like much of the U.S., has climate and soil conditions ideally suited to grow industrial hemp, and it was widely grown here for centuries.

A new hemp industry would strengthen Colorado’s economy.

  • The overall U.S. market for industrial hemp fiber and seed products is $400 million annually. Currently, zero percent of that money is going to American farmers, processors, or their families. Meanwhile, it is widely produced in Canada, China, and countries throughout Europe, among others.
  • Allowing the legal cultivation and processing of industrial hemp would provide the state with an infusion of new jobs and tax revenue in the near-term. It would also make it a leader in the development of a major new industry that will surely expand in coming years.

Hemp is a sustainable and environmentally-friendly agricultural crop.

  • Hemp can be grown entirely organically, requiring no pesticides or herbicides, and it absorbs CO2 five times more efficiently than natural forests.
  • The Colorado State legislature recently passed a bill to explore industrial hemp’s potential for phytoremediation, a process by which plants filter and clean contaminated soil. Hemp was used in this way following the Chernobyl nuclear accident to make surrounding areas safe for agriculture again.

Industrial hemp is used in the production of:

Fuel

  • Hemp can be processed into ethanol and biofuels. Development of biofuels could significantly reduce consumption of fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Fiber

  • Hemp fiber is longer, stronger, and more absorbent than cotton fiber. Because hemp has hollow fibers and cotton does not, hemp clothing is also better at regulating body temperature.
  • Hemp can be woven into a variety of textiles, rope, and netting. It can be blended with other construction materials to create insulating products, such as concrete building blocks, fiberboard, and carpeting. Hemp fiber is frequently used to make fiberglass composite panels for automobiles. For example, the Mercedes C-Class contains up to 20 kg of hemp in each car.

Paper and Plastic

  • Hemp produces more pulp per acre than timber on a sustainable basis, and it can be used for every quality of paper. Hemp paper can also be recycled more times than wood-based paper.
  • Hemp paper manufacturing can reduce wastewater contamination, and its low lignin content reduces the need for acids used in pulping. Hemp’s creamy color also lends to environmentally-friendly bleaching instead of harsh chlorine compounds. Less bleaching results in less dioxin and fewer chemical by-products.
  • Hemp can replace most toxic petrochemical products. Research is being done into the use of hemp in manufacturing biodegradable plastic products.

Food

  • Hemp seed is high in dietary fiber, an excellent source of B-vitamins, and one of the world’s richest sources of Omega-3 and -6 essential fatty acids. It also contains all eight essential amino acids and is second only to soybeans as a complete protein (although it is more digestible by humans than soybeans).
  • Including hemp seed in your diet can help regulate cardiac function, insulin balance, mood stability, and skin and joint health.

Hemp was considered an invaluable crop by our nation's leaders.

  • As early as the 1600s, colonial law required all settlers to grow hemp.
  • Benjamin Franklin owned a mill that made hemp paper, and many of the Founding Fathers strongly advocated industrial hemp production. Thomas Jefferson once wrote: "Hemp is of the first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country." George Washington echoed his enthusiasm, urging early settlers to "[m]ake the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!"
  • During World War II, the federal government subsidized hemp agriculture, and it encouraged hemp production in a short film titled, “Hemp for Victory.”