Curious about what marijuana legalization might do to New Jersey, local lawmakers in the Atlantic City area wanted an expert to tell them what they might expect. Instead, they heard from Kevin Wong, an intelligence analyst with the Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, who had some news for Jersey that would have come as a surprise to colleagues back in Colorado.
Thanks to weed, Wong is no longer proud of his home state.
“I have to apologize for what Colorado has done, because it has now affected all of you in other states,” he told lawmakers at an annual breakfast event attended by lawmakers from several cities in the Jersey Shore area. He “ruefully noted that visitors flying to Colorado can arrange to be picked up directly at the airport for special tours of the state’s bumper crop of marijuana dispensaries.” In case the prospect of tourists didn’t quite shake the Jersey crew, Wong had more.
Labeling Colorado as a drug experiment gone wrong, Wong cited a litany of social ills allegedly exacerbated by the state’s 2014 foray into legal pot.
Among them, more young people in Colorado are now using marijuana, drug-related traffic fatalities are up, the number of hospital emergency room visits caused by pot overdoses has climbed and drug-related school expulsion rates have jumped, according to Wong.
Sounds horrible. And it would be, if any of it were true.
At almost the same time Wong was clicking through his Powerpoint in south Jersey, health officials in Colorado released a report that contradicts nearly everything he said.
According to Colorado’s Retail Marijuana Public Health Committee, emergency-room visits are down, 25 percent; marijuana use rates among youth have stayed steady—or, according to one study using state data, decreased.
Wong also found a way to make the fact that Colorado sold $1.3 billion worth of cannabis in 2016 sound lame. As before, misstating facts helped.
Even though tax revenue from 2016 may exceed the annual hauls in 2014 and 2015 combined, the $140 million that Colorado collected that year was a small part of the state’s $24 billion budget, he told the breakfast. (According to Colorado’s revenue department, marijuana sales generated more like $160 million in taxes—and that over the first ten months, with November and December yet to be tallied.)
“So, don’t legalize it for money, because it’s not there,” he told the lawmakers, who will now never now that one Denver suburb gleans 20 percent of its budget from cannabis taxes, which just paid to repave every last mile of its streets.
By the way: There are more of those marijuana dispensaries in Colorado than there are McDonalds and Starbucks locations combined. In a refreshing turn of events, this is actually true. Just what it’s supposed to actually mean, other than cops’ abilities to count, is unclear. Wong doesn’t say. But it can’t be good.
Unfortunately, Wong’s disinformation campaign had the intended effect.
“Before, I’ve been supportive of the medical use of marijuana,” Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak told the Press of Atlantic City, prior to hearing Wong’s act. But “[a]fter hearing” the “keynote speaker… talk about negative impacts seen among law enforcement in Colorado after legalization,” Andrzejczak now doubts if “New Jersey could successfully escape the same issues.”
With truth-tellers like Kevin Wong on the case, there’s no way to avoid it.