"We can say with certainty that the claims about Colorado marijuana … range from highly misleading to wholly inaccurate."
BREAKING NEWS: Politicians, corporate influencers and anti-marijuana pundits lie. You heard it here first.
Actually, that’s not true at all. For a very, very long time, most voting Americans have understood that misleading the public is all a part of the game. It’s highly unethical, borderline illegal and shady as hell, but it still happens — we know this. Sometimes, the only way anyone has to keep a shred of honesty in politics is to fight back.
Which is what the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol and a few elected officials from Colorado are doing against Arizona’s anti-pot campaign sponsored by Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy. In a letter to leaders of the campaign, Colorado’s more informed politicians politely ask for the nonsense to subside.
Anti-pot campaigns have still been pushing through this season even though more than 60 percent of the U.S. population supports some form of legalized marijuana. From alcohol companies to casino owners, the lineup of those with tons of expendable cash railing against pot has, if nothing else, given us hilarious commercials to watch.
Take this one sponsored by Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul worth an estimated $32 billion:
But what has representatives of Colorado irked isn’t what’s going on in Maine. It’s a few particular spots using former leaders of the state in a misleading way. Former Governor of Colorado Bill Owens and former mayor Wellington E. Webb — along with others — are targeting Proposition 205, which would allow for adults 21 and older in Arizona to possess up to one ounce of weed and consume it in private (much like Colorado’s Amendment 64).
The problem with most of these statements is that they’re egregiously inaccurate. In a letter to Seth Leibsohn and Sheila Polk, two leaders of the anti-pot propaganda in Arizona, Rep. Jonathan Singer, Rep. Millie Hamner and Sen. Pat Steadman had this to say:
Dear Mr. Leibsohn and Ms. Polk:
It has been brought to our attention that your committee has produced and aired television ads that convey inaccurate and misleading statements about Colorado’s experience with regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use.
Specifically, your ad titled “Empty Promises” features a former Colorado local school official saying, “We were promised millions of new revenues for our schools, but they were empty words.” It also features a Colorado school principal saying, “Politicians spent more money on regulation and bureaucracy than in the classroom.” Similarly, in your ad titled “Mistake,” former Denver mayor Wellington Webb says, “We were promised new money for education. Instead, that money is going to regulation and the pot industry.”
The proponents of the initiative you are opposing and members of the Arizona media have raised questions about the validity of these claims. We have also heard from Colorado residents who read or saw stories about these ads in our local media outlets and were confused by the claims that they make.
As members of the Colorado Legislature who played intimate roles in the budgeting and appropriation of marijuana tax revenues, we feel it is our duty to set the record straight so that voters in both states have accurate information about this subject.
We can say with certainty that the claims about Colorado marijuana tax revenues featured in your committee’s ads range from highly misleading to wholly inaccurate. As you can see in the attached issue brief provided by Colorado Legislative Council staff and fact sheet produced by the Colorado Department of Education:
• Of the approximately $220.8 million in total marijuana tax revenue distributions made in FY 2015-16 and FY 2016-17, more than $138.3 million was distributed to the Colorado Department of Education to benefit Colorado schools. This far exceeds the amount that was distributed for the purposes of regulating marijuana, which included $15.8 to the Department of Revenue, $2.4 million to the Department of Agriculture, $2.8 million to the Department of Law, and less than $500,000 to the Governor’s Office of Marijuana Coordination.
• Of those funds, $114.9 million was distributed to the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) public school construction program. When Colorado voters adopted Amendment 64, they were promised a tax on wholesale marijuana transfers would raise $40 million per year for the BEST program. That tax actually raised more than $40 million in the last fiscal year, resulting in $40 million for the BEST program in FY 2016-17, plus an additional $5.7 million for Colorado’s Public School Fund.
• In addition to the funds raised for the BEST program and the Public School Fund, more than $5.5 million was used to increase the presence of health professionals in our schools, and more than $4.3 million was used for health-related programs in schools. In addition, $2.9 million was used for drop-out prevention programs, and $2.9 million was used for school bullying prevention and education.
It is also worth noting that more than $1.5 million in marijuana tax funds were distributed to the Department of Public Health and Environment to conduct the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which is the most comprehensive survey of our state’s middle and high school students. As you can see in the attached fact sheet from that department, the survey’s findings contradict the claim that “marijuana use among our students soared,” which is made in your ad titled “Empty Promises.” Rates of teen use have actually remained relatively unchanged since 2009 and are in line with the national average. In fact, they were slightly lower last year than they were prior to legalization.
We respectfully request that you stop airing or otherwise publishing campaign ads that contradict these facts. We also trust they will be reflected in any of your future communications to Arizona voters regarding Colorado’s experience with regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use.
Rep. Jonathan Singer
Member, Colorado House Appropriations Committee
Rep. Millie Hamner
Chair, Colorado Joint Budget Committee
Vice Chair, Colorado House Appropriations Committee
Sen. Pat Steadman
Member, Colorado Joint Budget Committee
Member, Colorado Senate Appropriations Committee
When asked why he participated in the commercial by the Denver Post, Webb simply said: "Because I chose to." He's still an admitted proponent for medicinall use of marijuana, but believes the state moved too fast with recreational weed without knowing the impacts it might have.
“I think there needs to be a lot more testing and analysis that needs to be done before we enter into this full scale on the national level,” he added.
Therein lies the problem, though, doesn't it? With only one facility in the country growing weed with federal approval (and the quality of said weed being complete trash), there isn't much of an opportunity for scientists to do what they do in order to get a better picture of what's going on. Held hostage by a Schedule I categorization, weed was likely to sit on the shelf for a long time without people in Colorado willing to safely volunteer as the country's guinea pig.
And what's happened is a campaign that's been wildly successful, even with the few blips of handling regulation and the pains of a growing industry. Anti-marijuana seems comical at this point — proven by the anti-weed ads coming forth in this election cycle. The country is witnessing a turning point, and ads like the ones above will one day be viewed like the ones we were forced to endure in the '80s and '90s.
Hysteria is powerful, but in the end, truth can win.