Nothing smart about Project SAM

Project SAM issues another biased report


Project SAM once again reaffirmed its own misnomer by issuing one of the most transparently biased reports ever to grace the internet. Here is a sampling of the report’s “findings” for your amusement:

·      Past-year and past-month marijuana use by all ages exceeds the national average in both Washington State and Colorado. Marijuana use in both these states has risen significantly between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.

These states have always been higher than the national average, which is why they were the early adopters and not, say, Louisiana and Oklahoma. And as for the usage rates rising, well guess what? It’s legal now! They’re allowed to use it if they want to. And now that cannabis is legal, any discussion of usage rates is meaningless without accompanying data on usage rates of alcohol and prescription pain killers. If usage rates of either or both dropped enough to explain the “significant”  cannabis increase (which by the way is 3%) then the increase in marijuana usage would count as a point for the legalization side. Besides, everybody said last year at this time that legalization would inspire an initial jump upwards followed by a settling down to a new plateau.

·      The number of burn victims in Colorado from hash oil explosions has significantly increased since legalization.

This unfortunately is a valid point, even though the raw number (17) is still quite modest. Unsafe hash oil extractions and carelessness surrounding cannabis-infused edibles were the two biggest weaknesses in Colorado’s legalization plan. The edibles situation seems to have been resolved (one of the benefits of legalization is that there is a process for resolving issues!) but the hash oil problem apparently continues. My view is that Colorado (and other green states) should adopt strict safety regulations for commercial production and policies to discourage home production. These policies could be as simple as lowering taxes on commercial oils and waxes or licensing facilities with code-compliant equipment for use by the public, similar to the way farmers used to take their grain to the miller to have it ground for them. In any event, the use of butane as a solvent should be discouraged in every way imaginable. It is not only extremely dangerous but it could potentially add a toxic element to what is otherwise a benign plant. There are other solutions, such as alcohol, CO2, and ice.

·      Between 2008 and 2011, an average of 4 children (between the ages of 3 and 7) were sent to the ER for unintentional marijuana ingestion. In 2013, 8 children went to the Colorado Children’s hospital. As of the first half of 2014, at least 14 children have already been sent to the ER.

Do I even need to refute this? Does it take a genius to figure out that in a state of 2.68 million people, 4 or 14 kids is about the same? The number of kids hospitalized for taking prescription drugs or poisons far exceeds this number. And of course these  kids at least were not harmed and were never in any real danger; the standard treatment for a cannabis overdose is ibuprofen. Even if Coloradans are slow learners and this hellish pace continues for the next few years, one medium bottle of ibuprofen will still expire before it’s been depleted. This is not to downplay the irresponsibility of the adults who left their edibles within a child’s grasp. This is totally irresponsible and threatens the entire cannabis freedom movement. Still, these numbers were taken from before Colorado made changes to its regulations regarding edibles. I will be interested to see the impact of these regulations on the statistics for later periods.

·      The number of marijuana citations given for public or underage use has skyrocketed in Denver and Aurora versus last year.

Well yeah, duh, now that criminal charges are not an option a citation is all you will get. Again, however, people need to remember that public consumption is still illegal and in many contexts is also downright rude. I expect these numbers to fall off after the, um, ah, euphoria of legalization has worn off and people become used to the new normal and sensitized to the rights of people who do not want their faces rubbed in cannabis smoke all over town.

·      According to the Washington Poison Center, “the selling of cannabis for recreational purposes became legalized in the state of Washington on July 7th, 2014. As a direct result, the Washington Poison Center (WAPC) has encountered an increase in the number of human exposures related to accidental or excessive consumption/inhalation of marijuana and marijuana edibles, particularly among pediatrics.”

Same story as with Colorado kids but in a different state. Edibles need to be treated with respect. And remember the old adage, “keep out of reach of children”. Please!

·      Contaminant testing in Washington finds that 13% of pot and THC-infused products contain mold, salmonella, and E. coli. Colorado has not begun such testing yet.

I was actually surprised that this number is so low. These contaminants are problems in any crop and can and do appear in food crops all the time. Mold in particular is extremely difficult to control in an indoor grow, especially given the cannabis plant’s temperature and humidity requirements. In Mexico crops are often sprayed to control these pests but that just introduces a different class of contaminants. Most American growers try to avoid use of poisons on cannabis, especially if it is destined in whole or in part for the medical cannabis market.

·      A marijuana-focused private equity firm, Privateer Holdings in partnership with the descendants of Bob Marley, have created a multinational cannabis brand called Marley Natural. Investors have already raised $50 million to launch Marley Natural.

Mile-high jokes are soooo 2014. (By Colorado Senate GOP (Denver Skyline  Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Mile-high jokes are soooo 2014. (By Colorado Senate GOP (Denver Skyline Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

This is ridiculous. So a company is launching a cannabis brand. It is not the first and won’t be the last. Google “legal”. The whole point of moving cannabis into a legal regulated market is to divert black market profits into the general economy. This is one aspect of that. If you don’t like the idea of Big Marijuana then don’t buy from these sorts of companies. That is how capitalism works. And as long as we have the right to grow our own as the final check on cannabis producers’ ability to price-gouge we will be fine. Some people like Budweiser and some people like a Stone’s IPA. This is what freedom looks like.

·      Crime in Denver is up.

This will confuse many activists who have been trumpeting the drop in crime since statistics were first made available. However, a careful reading of the crime stats shows that only the most violent crimes, such as murder and rape, have gone down. A lot of categories of petty crimes have gone up. This may be simply a side affect of redirected police resources. The Denver PD has a different explanation:

In May 2013 the Denver Police Department implemented the Unified Summons and Complaint (US&C) process. This process unifies multiple types of paper citations, excluding traffic tickets, into an electronic process. That information is transmitted to the Denver Sheriff, County Court, City Attorney and District Attorney through a data exchange platform as needed. As a result of this process a reported offense is generated which was previously not captured in National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS). (Source: Denver County and City Official Site).

In other words, 2013 data are distorted by five months of lower numbers due to a difference in counting. The SAM report tries to get around this by choosing instead to focus on three categories of crime which they feel can be blamed on cannabis legalization: disorderly conduct (up 51%), drug violations (up 12%), and public drunkenness (up 53%). Of course I would take any and all of these over murder, rape, aggravated assault, and kidnapping, but in any event increases in any of these categories could also reflect changing police priorities in a post-prohibition environment. All those man hours spent chasing down potheads now have to be spent on something else, and drunks and druggies are a logical choice for the life-long drug warrior.

·      Cannabis from Colorado is finding its way into other states.

In fact the report specifies that cannabis has been intercepted on its way to 40 states. Part of this may be due to increased scrutiny; there are reports of Colorado drivers being pulled over in other states on spurious grounds and being subjected to search by law enforcement. But there probably is also an increase in trafficking to other states, as this would be an inevitable consequence of attacking the black market in Colorado. All of that underground pot has to go somewhere, so it is going where the black market still thrives, thrilling consumers in those states who would otherwise be forced to buy inferior brick weed (usually indirectly) from the Mexican cartels. That weed has also not been laboratory tested but if I were to hazard a guess I’d say that the failure rate would be somewhere upwards of Washington State’s 13%. Nevertheless this is still a danger sign because it represents the only bullet point from the Justice Department memo that is not under control. Colorado’s challenge here is of course the law of supply and demand: demand in prohibition states will always suck Colorado’s excess black market supply because of unmet demand. The only way to fix this is to legalize everywhere, or at least in enough places so that the force of black market demand is weakened into insignificant levels.. So in this instance it becomes a sort of race: can the anti-prohibitionists re-legalize cannabis in enough states to blunt the effects of the laws of supply and demand before some future administration loses patience with cannabis leaking out of Colorado?

SAM reports that the change in the data "may have nothing to do with marijuana law changes" but the Denver Police are less tentative; they identify a new data collection method as the main cause for the rise in reported crimes.

SAM reports that the change in the data “may have nothing to do with marijuana law changes” but the Denver Police are less circumspect; they identify a new data collection method as the main cause for the rise in reported crimes.

Other items in the report

There are a couple of other items in the report that either are variations of the themes above or rehashes of already discredited claims. For example, increases in teen-age cannabis busts could reflect changes in enforcement resources more than changes in underlying usage patterns (which survey data show to be moving in the other direction). And increases in drivers testing positive for cannabis are completely meaningless due to the nature of how cannabis testing works, a fact that I would expect any reader here to already understand too well. And of course there is the fact that, overall, traffic fatalities are down in Colorado, a fact conveniently left out of Project SAM’s little report.

There are also statistics (for the wrong range of years by the way) showing increased cannabis addiction admissions at Arapahoe House Treatment Network, a drug rehabilitation firm fiercely addicted to the Prohibition Economy and closely aligned with Project SAM, whose data are absolutely not to be trusted.

All in all, I think this report is great news. If this is the best that Big Prohibition’s finest minds can come up with then we are in good shape.

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