It's a pleasure to be here, and I have to say it's an incredible honour to be able to present to you, so thank you for the time.
I was indeed the director of marijuana coordination for the state of Colorado, which was a title that raised quite a few eyebrows when it first came out, and had people wondering what the job qualifications were. I can assure you that it had to do with nothing else but the fact that I was a lawyer and well versed in Colorado law, and that I was, at the time, the lieutenant governor's chief of staff.
In wondering about what would be most helpful for all of you today, in terms of lessons learned from our jurisdiction, I thought one of the more useful distinctions we have is between when it was a better policy objective to educate Coloradans, versus when we needed to rely on more stick-like law enforcement principles. For the most part I've tried to divide my presentation into those two subjects, and then some other pertinent information that I think would have been of use to us at the stage where you guys are.
First is to talk about youth use, and obviously education about youth use is important. I don't think anybody would think of it any differently. I will say that in Colorado we had a problem in tone at the beginning, and that certainly affected our rollout of public education campaigns and our ability to educate the youth early. We as government didn't see it as scare tactics, but the message in the first campaign was “Don't be a Lab Rat”. It was really about educating the kids about the fact that the initial studies coming out were not good, and asking them whether they wanted to be the brain that gives itself up to science later on.
What we missed when we did that was that when youth are listening to the government talking about marijuana, there is a healthy amount of skepticism coming from them. When you saw our further campaigns coming on, like “Protect What's Next”, we were working very hard not to use a condescending tone in any way, really just trying to meet the youth where their goals are in life. We said things much closer to, “Are you interested in getting your driver's licence?”, “Are you interested in getting a good grade on your tests, in getting a date to the dance, or in making a sports team?”, and “Do you actually think that marijuana will help you get there?”
Our post-tests have come back on that with a much higher rating, so there was a lesson learned on our side about how to do messaging in a way that best educates rather than reprimands youth.
I will also say that there is some very good research that we relied on heavily in Colorado, out of the state of Washington, about the use of behavioural health specialists in schools to identify at-risk kids who then get to volunteer in behavioural health programs. To date, that has been the best impact money that we've seen on the ability both to prevent youth use and also to pull kids back from substance abuse.
The other place worth mentioning is responsible use. I think you'll hear a lot about people showing up in hospitals and people calling poison control centres post-legalization. Most studies on that have shown that it's mostly about naive users—tourists being the number one naive users—coming in and trying new products.
The one that everybody is most familiar with, although it certainly isn't the only one, is edibles. Tourists come in, they don't have a place to smoke, and edibles are, frankly, a more consumer-friendly product. They buy some edibles and they over-consume just as they would over-consume alcohol, but it's probably a little worse with marijuana because there is a delayed effect there. They end up using more than they should—sometimes mixing it with things like alcohol—and they end up in the emergency room.
The good news is that the main effect is a short psychotic break, which doesn't sound like good news but it is. They're a danger to themselves and to others while they're in it, but there are no long-term health effects to that and all they really need is time to get through it.
The other thing to notice, and why I put it in this category, is that the more we have educated on that, the more we've seen those numbers come down. We've actually seen a decrease in hospitalization rates and a decrease in poison control centre calls since the education on what new products can do to users, and, in general, the education to naive users that there can be a pretty huge impact coming in on that.
The third one is licensee compliance.
One thing we've noticed in our system moving forward is that there are enough built-in incentives for licensees to want to comply with the law and that the more we educate them on how to comply with the law, the more we'll see compliance rates rise. That education ranges through everything from pesticides to youth use.
In general, at least in the way the Colorado system was built, you had far too much money at stake, so with that incentive to keep your licence, we ended up seeing very high compliance rates in some cases, much higher than the alcohol compliance rates for similarly situated licensee suspensions.
The areas in which to expect the worst have been talked about a couple of times. The biggest one is out-of-country and, in the case of Colorado, out-of-state diversion. Unfortunately, the way that legalization is going—in pockets, rather than in the United States across the country. Certainly, when you share a border with a state that has prohibition, the economic incentive to be able to grow and ship is very high, so you have to be able to look at your system in such a way that you understand where somebody's going to try to abuse that system.
In Colorado, that ended up to be in our home-grow system. As Chief Vasquez mentioned, it was mainly our medical marijuana that allowed for quite a bit of home-grow. Our recreational use also allowed for home-grow, and between the two, it was very confusing for law enforcement and there was a lot of jury nullification. We had to go back and clean up our laws quite a bit. It is also the area in which we've seen organized crime come into Colorado, and frankly in which we've seen violent crime come into Colorado.
The number one thing I say to jurisdictions when I come in, therefore, is to really take a look at your unlicensed system. Also take a look at your licensed system and make sure that in any place where there's abuse involving out-of-state or out-of-country diversion, you make sure to put up safeguards as soon as possible.
There are areas in which we don't know enough, and frankly, concerning which we're excited about the opportunity of seeing where Canada is going with this in order to learn more. Certainly there are trends we should be paying attention to.
Driving while high is one. There are two sets of data that we look at there. The first is actual arrest data on driving while high, which I would submit to you is very bad data and not worth looking at, at this point. That's because every state that has passed marijuana laws has then passed new “driving while high” laws and also used a portion of their money to train officers to be able to pull people over for driving while high.
The fatal accident reporting systems called FARS is a much better system to look into. It has not changed all that much post-legalization and is not susceptible to the same sort of objective biases that our DUID systems are. We can't link causation at this point, but these have shown an increased trend of people testing high while driving, and that includes for active THC. This means that among people involved in accidents in which somebody has died, drivers involved are testing higher for active THC at a greater percentage than they were before legalization. This certainly is a place that needs both a lot more research and frankly best practices, going forward, because it's not a place that has been developed at this point.
Adult consumption was mentioned before as well. We don't actually have great data from Colorado about how cannabis use disorder or functional impairment or heavy use has changed post-legalization. Frankly, if I could go back and rework the surveys of 10 years ago, I'd start to ask about frequency of use, but the main questions we've been asking are about year use and 30-day use. This, then, is one place in which I point out that you should have your data system set up to catch this information as quickly as possible, rather than five to 10 years down the road. We frankly don't even have a trend line in Colorado yet.
To speak very quickly to other pertinent issues, I know that taxation and where the revenue money will be will always be a big topic of discussion. I argue that the black market argument is probably not the key factor right now that should be argued about. Economies of scale have much more to do with the price of marijuana coming down over time than tax revenue has. Certainly you can tax it too high and can create a black market—we've seen that with cigarettes—so it should be something you are aware of.
In the opening years of legalization, however, the price of marijuana is going to be determined much more by economies of scale than by questions about tax revenue. Whatever you're thinking about, make sure that you remain flexible in your thinking, because the price is going to decrease rapidly over time as people realize these economies.
That being said, I don't think tax revenue should be a driving force behind legalization. In Colorado, any way you look at it, it makes up less than 1% of our total revenue, but in the voters' minds it makes up about 95%. It is thus in the media all the time, and it makes people think that it's enough money to fix schools or to fix transportation, and it's not.
I urge new jurisdictions to consider it going to discrete public health problems, such as homelessness, that don't typically receive revenue streams and on which you can significantly move the needle, because whatever you're giving marijuana money to, be prepared to have it get no more money down the line. Everybody thinks you can solve the problem with marijuana money.
I'll end with data, the ways we look at data and suggestions we would have going forward. We have five standards we think about when we think about data.
One is that you need to make sure you have great baseline data moving forward. We didn't have great baseline data for marijuana-related suspensions in schools. We just had drug-related suspensions. Marijuana might make up 50% to 60% of those, but it doesn't serve as well as a proxy. Having baseline data ahead of time, including on DUIDs, will be really important and will help you to signify public health and public safety concerns much faster.
Two, to the extent possible—and this is very difficult—it should be free of observation bias. I think one of the things that happens once you legalize is that everybody becomes very aware of marijuana, including doctors. They will say that they code more often for marijuana than they would have before, because they're asking questions more often. In the places where you can be more free of those observation biases going forward, again, the better data you'll have to be able to notice public health and public safety issues.
Three, you'll be pushed to gather information about whether legalization is a good idea or a bad idea. I think that's the wrong place to be looking for data. This is a country that's already decided where it wants to go. Instead, it should be picking up for public health and public safety data that is relevant to ways it can change and move forward with it.
Finally, four, make sure that it's actionable. I know a lot of places have great seed-to-sale data that they don't yet feel comfortable going to court with. Unless you feel comfortable enough with your data to use it in the ways you need to use it, ultimately, it is not useful. There are a lot of places you can go with data. I recommend making sure all your systems, especially your seed-to-sale tracking system, are talking to your public health and public safety data systems so that you can see your problems as quickly as possible.
With that, I look forward to your questions. Thank you for your time.