One ad says that Colorado’s state education system has failed to reap the promised financial benefits of marijuana legalization. Pictured: Mitch Morrissey, Denver district attorney, talks in Denver on Thursday, March 11, 2010 (David Zalubowski, The Associated Press)

Some Colorado pols paint dark picture for legal weed

Critics say crime warnings by Bill Owens, Mitch Morrissey and others are based on inaccurate and misleading information

Some Colorado politicians, including a former governor and a sitting district attorney, are appearing in anti-marijuana campaigns in other states and offering dire warnings to voters as they blame pot for a host of issues ranging from murders to teen drug abuse to traffic deaths.

But critics say those warnings are based on inaccurate and misleading information. And crime reports from state and local law enforcement show that no direct link has been made between legalized marijuana and increasing crime in Colorado.

For example, the Colorado Department of Public Safety offered a disclaimer on using its data in a March 2016 report on the legalization of marijuana. The department’s crime analysts said a lack of historical data, a decreasing social stigma and challenges to local law enforcement made it nearly impossible to translate any findings into definitive statements on the drug’s impact.

“Furthermore, the information presented here should be interpreted with caution,” the report’s executive summary said.

And the Denver Police Department found that marijuana legalization has not had a statistically significant impact on major crimes, according to a report provided to The Denver Post.

John Hudak, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Brookings Institute who studies marijuana legalization, said much of the information being spread in the marijuana referendums is wrong or misleading.

The issue needs an honest discussion, but television commercials featuring former Gov. Bill Owens and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb are not providing that, Hudak said. He also was critical of a letter Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey wrote to anti-pot organizations that are fighting legalization in California.

“If you have to rely on false data or lies, you’re probably not winning the argument,” said Hudak, who maintains a neutral position on legalization.

In one television ad being aired in Arizona, Owens and Webb tell voters that Colorado leads the nation in teen use of marijuana, that traffic deaths related to marijuana are up, that pot is marketed to children and is leading to an increase in babies born with THC in their systems.

On top of those problems, the state’s education system has failed to reap the promised financial benefits of legalized marijuana, the ad says.

“Don’t repeat our terrible mistake,” Webb says as the commercial ends.

The commercial relies heavily on a report written by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federally funded agency that fights the illegal drug trade. However, that report has been criticized for manipulating data, and Hudak called it “garbage.”

Other reports indicate the anti-pot commercials may be stretching the facts.

A recent Healthy Kids Colorado study found teenage use of marijuana has remained flat and is in line with the national average.

State highway data has not proved that marijuana has made roads less safe, and the number of people arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana dropped between 2014 and 2015, the state patrol has reported.

As for revenue for education, three members of Colorado’s legislature on Monday joined a pro-pot group in releasing a counterclaim to the commercial.

In a news release from Yes on 205 in Arizona, Sen. Pat Steadman and Reps. Millie Hamner and Jonathan Singer, all Democrats, said more than $138 million in marijuana tax revenue has been distributed to the Colorado Department of Education.

Webb told The Post on Monday that he did the Arizona commercial “because I chose to.” Webb said he also has been invited to speak out against marijuana in Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada.

While Webb said he supports medical marijuana, he believes Colorado moved too quickly on recreational pot, approving it without fully understanding the societal impacts.

“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 said.

Morrissey wrote a letter addressed to two anti-pot groups that says crime rates have not dropped because of legalized marijuana and that legalization will not free law enforcement to work on other crimes. The letter cites rising statewide homicides, motor vehicle thefts and sexual assaults.

“The Denver Police Department is busier enforcing marijuana laws and investigating crimes directly related to marijuana, including murderers, robberies and home invasions, than any other time in the history of the city,” Morrissey’s Oct. 12 letter concludes.

Morrissey said in an interview with The Post that he was asked to answer two questions: Do crime rates drop under legalized marijuana and does legalized marijuana free local police to concentrate on other public safety issues?

The pro-pot side is claiming that both results will be achieved through legalization and he was providing answers to those questions, he said.

Still, the Denver Police Department’s own analysis on the city’s rising crime rates could not pin blame on marijuana. While some major crimes such as homicides, aggravated assaults and auto thefts have risen since pot was legalized, population growth is more likely the cause, the report said.

But the structure of Morrissey’s letter insinuates legalized marijuana causes crime rates to go up, Hudak said.

“The district attorney’s letter shows a pretty strategic use of data that ends up being insulting to the public,” Hudak said.

All in all, Hudak said he expected more from people who say they are committed to public service.

“The legalization of marijuana has not been a perfect process. It hasn’t been without its challenges,” Hudak said. “An honest discussion of those challenges is good for voters and would be educational for them.”

Mitch Morrissey letter

This story was first published on DenverPost.com