There’s no question that the tax on recreational marijuana use is boosting the economy in Washington state and Colorado, but at what cost?
No one wants to share the road with a drunk driver, but would you feel any more safe sharing the road with a driver high on weed? Or, what would you do if you found out a toddler ate an extremely potent marijuana brownie?
These are just a couple of concerns that Washington state and Colorado residents are now dealing with, and experts say Alaskans can expect the same if voters decide to legalize pot.
The crowd gathered near Colorado’s capital on April 20, 2014 was among the largest collections of marijuana enthusiasts in the country. There were tens of thousands gathered to celebrate the unofficial pot-smoking holiday
For the first time, a majority of Americans are now in favor of legalizing the controversial substance. That’s a far cry from the 1930s, when the infamous film “Reefer Madness” led viewers to believe that “burning weed with its roots in hell” was more dangerous than highly addictive opiates like heroin, cocaine and amphetamines like meth. The film also said consuming cannabis would lead to “debauchery, violence, murder, suicide and the ultimate end of the marijuana addict.”
But a few months into the first year of legalized pot in Colorado and Washington suggests otherwise.
Sonny Jackson with the Denver Police Department said crime rates haven’t changed much since recreational marijuana stores opened up.
So far, there have been two deaths linked to excessive edible marijuana consumption in Colorado. Right now, the state is considering lowering the amount of THC allowed in edible marijuana products.
Jackson said even though anyone over 21 can now buy marijuana at a licensed retailer, their bigger safety concern on roads remains alcohol.
“We do find that DUI is much more prevalent,” Jackson said.
But what about arrests for driving while stoned?
“That’s about the same as it was last year,” Jackson said. “It did not increase where we found all of a sudden a lot of people were smoking.”
However, one problem legalized weed has presented for law enforcement is customers: tourists like Steven Coleman, who drove 23 hours from Wisconsin to stock up on hash oil, medicine he says he uses for back pain.
“The hash oil blows away taking pain pills,” Coleman said. “I’ve taken pain pills all my life and the hash oil … it’s amazing.”
The problem is that Coleman has to drive back through at least two states to get his medicine home, breaking federal and state laws along the way because marijuana remains illegal outside of Colorado and Washington.
“Obviously, they have their concerns where whether it be Wyoming or another state, about marijuana coming into their states and we respect that,” Jackson said.
In Washington state, which also legalized marijuana use, police at Seattle-Tacoma Airport share the same sentiment.
“Here’s something that used to be illegal that no longer is illegal,” said Port of Seattle Police Department Commander John Eliadis. “It’s okay to have it and for us to walk away from it. Where in the past, the very least we’d confiscate it and give a warning, or cite the person for possession. Now, it’s totally different.”
Eliadis said the most he and fellow officers do to anyone in possession of the legal limit of marijuana at the Sea-Tac Airport is offer advice.
“It’s just important to respect the laws of other states,” Eliadis said. “And when you’re traveling, it may be legal where you’re flying from but where you’re going to it may not be legal but you’re subject to the laws of that state and are subject to arrest.”
So, while voters ponder whether to legalize pot in Alaska, what’s going to stop anyone from trafficking marijuana from Washington or Colorado into the 49th state? Nothing, according to Eliadis.
Unlike Washington state, Colorado’s laws allow airports to ban marijuana, and airports there have. Only, the punishment for a traveler attempting to fly out with weed is an administrative fine. No jail, unless the passenger is underage or carrying more than legally allowed in Colorado.
In the final part of KTVA’s 5-part special: Considering Cannabis, the lessons learned in Colorado and Washington state will be applied to Alaska’s voter initiative to legalize marijuana.