The Denver Post, Oct. 22, on marijuana's impact in Colorado:
It would be foolish to look solely at the economic benefits generated from legally sold marijuana in Colorado and declare the entire undertaking an unqualified success.
Yes, Colorado racked up $700 million in sales of medicinal and recreational pot last year, as The Denver Post reported this week.
And yes, those sales generated $76 million in state revenue, including sales taxes and fees.
Indeed, one in 11 industrial buildings in central Denver is full of marijuana.
But economic benefits aren't everything.
The jury is still out on whether legal marijuana has been a net success or a detriment for Colorado. If use of the drug is climbing, for example, that also must factor into the picture because some of that use has negative personal and social consequences.
Nationally, there is little doubt that pot use is on the upswing — and has been for much of this century as attitudes toward it have relaxed. Part of that shift no doubt is attributable to the mainstreaming of medical marijuana in many states (Colorado in 2000) and, more recently, campaigns legalizing recreational pot.
Just this week the National Institutes of Health released a study saying the percentage of Americans who reported using marijuana over the previous 12 months doubled between 2001-02 and 2012-13. More disturbingly, "3 in 10 people who use marijuana (are) meeting the criteria for addiction," according to George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The federal government's National Survey on Drug Use and Health last year confirmed Colorado was part of the upward trend.
In 2013, the Justice Department indicated its priorities in terms of the sale of marijuana included preventing distribution to minors; preventing revenue from going to gangs or cartels; preventing the diversion of marijuana to other states; and preventing drugged driving.
The data on some of these goals are murky. On the one hand, pot shops appear to have been mostly conscientious about not selling to minors, and the 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado survey showed a slight (statistically insignificant) drop in the percentage of high school students reporting they'd ever tried marijuana compared to 2011. But that upbeat finding is undercut by the testimony of school resource officers who report an increase in student use and by a rise in drug-related expulsions.
Colorado Public Radio reports that marijuana-related DUIs "have fallen slightly across Colorado this year, according to the State Patrol." Alcohol continues to be responsible for five times as many DUIs.
Nevertheless, as the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force pointed out in a September report, the number of fatal accidents with drivers who tested positive for marijuana has climbed.
The task force is passionately opposed to legalization, and its latest report includes some sobering statistics. Nevertheless, we would argue that the worst scenarios predicted after legalization have not materialized. Meanwhile, smart regulations have been put in place, and are being refined as loopholes or weaknesses become apparent.
As the recent news reports make clear, the economic benefits of legalization seem to be real. Still, we will need several more years of data before it will be safe to say the social impacts are relatively modest and not of urgent concern.
The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, Oct. 25, on fixing Colorado's highways:
The Colorado Department of Transportation is searching for its soul, like a young vagabond contemplating his calling on a tropical beach. Taxpayers are footing the bill.
The department is supposed to build and maintain highways for the movement of goods and people throughout the state. It is not sexy but a tad bit important.
As reported in The Denver Post last month, the department is undergoing a "cultural shift."
The article helped explain a promise by Gov. John Hickenlooper to spend $100 million on bicycle paths and a pledge by CDOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt to emphasize more bike innovation in all projects.
Two weeks later, state legislators learned of a plan by our evolving transportation employees to spend $150 million on new offices for themselves.
The talk of $250 million in non-highway projects comes on the heels of transportation officials opposing a legislative push last spring for $3.5 billion in bonds to pay for highways and bridges.
CDOT officials did not want to commit half their share of federal gas tax revenues to paying off the debt.
Meanwhile, two of the country's 50 largest cities — Colorado Springs and Denver — are connected by only one interstate highway. It bottlenecks into two lanes in each direction for 17 miles between Monument Hill and Castle Rock.
Widening is at least 25 years past due. The two metro areas comprise more than half the state's population. When the interstate was completed as a four-lane connector in the 1960s, Colorado Springs consisted of 70,000 people and virtually no suburban development. Today, the city consists of nearly 500,000 residents and is part of a metropolitan area approaching 700,000.
I-25 is jammed up between Denver and the Springs most of every weekend, slowing the ability of metro Denver residents to visit Pueblo Reservoir, Pikes Peak and attractions throughout southern Colorado. Many don't even bother with the trip, knowing what they are in for. Working commuters lose hours of productivity while stuck in traffic. It is hurting the state's economy.
By even the most exaggerated estimates, the highway could be widened for considerably less than state employees plan to spend on new offices and bikeways. Easing traffic for a majority of the state's population will facilitate economic growth. It is a logical means to generate revenues for bike assets and offices. Don't get the Burley ahead of the bike.
The governor and transportation officials are right to emphasize the economic and cultural benefits of bicycle trails, even though $100 million may sound excessive. People move households and businesses to Colorado to enjoy the sunshine, scenery and mountain air. Our culture encourages health. Legislators, other state officials and the public should carefully examine how much to invest in bike transportation and over what period of time.
Meanwhile, do not tolerate CDOT spending taxpayer money on office space before fixing the state's most important and neglected urban corridor. Do not let wants preclude Colorado's most pressing transportation need.
The Durango Herald, Oct. 26, on the state attorney general suing the federal government over the Clean Power Plan:
Gov. John Hickenlooper is at odds with the Attorney General Cynthia Coffman over her adding Colorado to a list of states suing the Environmental Protection Agency to block the implementation of the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan. The governor has asked the state's Supreme Court for an opinion as to whether her actions are legal.
The governor has the high ground on this one. Coffman's actions make sense only in the context of Republican opposition to anything with President Obama's name attached. Cleaning up America's production of electric power is necessary and prudent. It is, in fact, critical to the nation's future.
The Clean Power Plan is a collection of regulations intended to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants all around the country, with an overall goal of reducing them 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Each state has its own goal and is allowed flexibility in how to reach it. With a 32 percent national goal, the final rule is somewhat tougher than the EPA's initial proposal.
This is not a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter federal imposition. It is a workable effort to address a real and recognized problem.
Colorado's goal is to achieve a 28 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions compared to a 2012 benchmark. That amounts to a 40 percent reduction in the number of pounds of carbon dioxide produced per megawatt of electricity generated.
And there is every reason to think Colorado can do that. The state set a goal in 2010 for investor-owned utilities to generate 30 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2020. As The Denver Post reported Monday, Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy - Colorado's biggest energy supplier - has cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 26 percent since 2005 and is on course to see a 35 percent reduction by 2020.
Critics, of course, predict astronomically high electric rates, power shortages, lost jobs and economic catastrophe. But then they always do. Any push for cleaner air elicits the same litany of dire consequences - few if any of which ever come true.
Might the Clean Power Plan cost jobs? Of course, among people who sell coal. Then again, companies and workers involved in making or maintaining wind mills might prosper, perhaps along with producers of natural gas and manufacturers of solar panels.
Tourist-related industries and ski areas may not directly profit from reducing carbon monoxide emissions, but they could enjoy the publicity Colorado's leadership could engender - and they certainly stand to lose if nothing is done about climate change. Besides, the effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will also cut other kinds of pollution. And part of what Colorado markets is its pure, blue sky.
Coffman contends the Clean Power Plan violates some part of the Clean Air Act and is therefore illegal. Hickenlooper questions whether the attorney general has the authority to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the state over the governor's objection.
The state Supreme Court can answer the governor on that, while the U.S. Supreme Court could at some point be asked to speak to Coffman's contention. A better outcome, however, would be if neither court were involved.
After all, what is there about cleaner air that is objectionable - even if Obama's name is on the plan? Colorado does not need to get involved. Attorney General Coffman should drop this unnecessary effort and let the governor get on with cleaning up Colorado's power.
The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Oct. 27, on state prison work programs:
Colorado Correctional Industries is a division of the state Department of Corrections that puts inmates to work.
The program employs about 1,600 inmates, although those numbers are likely to take a hit after a Houston-based protest group took aim at Whole Foods for selling food produced by Colorado inmates.
Whole Foods sells goat cheese produced by a dairy in Longmont and tilapia raised at a Colorado fish farm. The companies partnered with CCI to employ prisoners to milk goats and raise the fish.
The company agreed to stop sourcing products made with prison labor because of the backlash of the protest, which called out Whole Foods for profiting from prison "slave labor." Prisoners typically are paid very low wages.
But Chandra Bozelko, a former inmate at a maximum-security prison in Connecticut, said she didn't care about low pay. The opportunity to work — to be productive — was far more important than the money when she was behind bars.
"Work humanizes inmates; employed inmates seem less like caged animals. While they paid me less than two dollars a day, my supervisors valued me as a person and an employee, at a time when no one else did, including myself," she wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.
We'd be curious if the CCI employees felt exploited. Most inmates — and most prison officials — would probably agree that having prisoners work is better than having them kill time playing dominoes. But the only advantage prisons offer is low pay. Implementing a minimum wage for prisoner labor, as some advocates suggest, would likely mean an end of "private sector" jobs for inmates. There will always be prison jobs in laundries and cafeterias, but there's a difference.
A lack of jobs deprives inmates of opportunity to learn not just vocational skills, but teamwork — how to get along with coworkers in a workplace environment. CCI's mission is to provide inmates with employment and training so they'll have job skills that could help them find employment once they're released. Prisoners who work while they're incarcerated have lower recidivism rates.
The Whole Foods relationship with food producers and CCI seemed to be working fine until some well-meaning people with a misguided sense of social justice upset the apple cart.
What makes more sense? Paying low wages to inmates in an attempt to break the cycle of recidivism? Or paying thousands more to house inmates when they re-enter the system?
CCI employees do farm work, train dogs and fight wildfires. Hopefully supporters of the prison labor program created by CCI will be undeterred by the negative publicity generated by the short-sighted Whole Foods protest.