Speaker: Legal pot not good for state

GREENFIELD — Chelsey Clarke came to Hancock County with one message: legalized marijuana has not been good for Colorado.

Clarke, a strategic intelligence analyst for the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a law enforcement organization dedicated to fighting drug trafficking through Rocky Mountain states, told dozens of police officers, probation officers and community stakeholders gathered Tuesday at Greenfield-Central High School about the impact the legalization of the drug has had on her home state.

Neighbors Against Substance Abuse invited stakeholders to participate in Tuesday’s training to learn about the risks Indiana could face if it considers legalizing marijuana, a proposal that so far hasn’t gained much ground.

Director Tim Retherford said the legalization of marijuana is a hot topic across the country, but many people don’t know the effect it’s had on the states that have so far legalized the drug’s use. NASA is opposed to the legalization of marijuana, and Retherford thinks it’s important community stakeholders are armed with information to provide to state lawmakers should a proposal come up in Indiana, he said.

Across the country, four states, including Colorado and Washington, D.C., have legalized the recreational use of marijuana among adults.

Proponents of legalization say it will decrease the number of people arrested for possession and sale of marijuana, freeing up law enforcement to focus on other public safety matters, generating extra revenue through taxation and reducing profits for drug cartels trafficking marijuana.

But Clarke said Tuesday the opposite has happened in Colorado, where adults 21 and older may purchase and use the drug.

She told participants at Tuesday’s convocation that fatal accidents and other impaired driving incidents in Colorado have increased since marijuana was legalized in 2013. In addition, use of the drug among high-schoolers has risen 8 percent, she said, citing the most recent Healthy Kids Colorado survey, an assessment taken voluntarily at public high schools.

Traffic deaths related to marijuana, for example, increased to 115 in 2015, up from 71 in 2013, she said.

And in 2015, 63 percent of incidents involving a driver under the influence of drugs involved marijuana, up from 55 percent in 2013.

Legalizing marijuana in Colorado also has had negative impacts beyond the state’s borders, she said.

The drug is grown in Colorado and then trafficked across the country to the East Coast. Along the way, it’s passing through Midwestern states such as Indiana.

Last year, there were 14 reported incidents of Colorado marijuana being transported through the Hoosier state, Clarke said.

And earlier this month, members of the Proactive Criminal Enforcement (PACE) team stopped a car carrying marijuana from Colorado to Pennsylvania on Interstate 70, said Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Brad Burkhart.

“We produce it and ship it out to states like yours,” Clarke said.

Retherford said he hoped Tuesday’s session gave law enforcement and court professionals a better understanding of the impacts legalizing marijuana might have on states.

The benefits of legalizing the drug aren’t as glamorous as they seem, he said.

“We knew there would be consequences,” he said. “We think it’s important to educate our community and our professionals.”

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.