POLITICS
10/31/2016 06:46 pm ET

Colorado Lawmakers Want Arizona's Anti-Marijuana Campaign To Stop Misleading People About Their State

As Arizona voters prepare to vote on legalization, an anti-drug group paints a bleak picture of life in a neighboring state.
Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Lawmakers in Colorado on Monday asked an anti-marijuana campaign in Arizona to stop airing ads that they say contain false information about their state and could mislead voters who will be deciding on recreational legalization of the drug next week. 

State Sen. Pat Steadman (D) and Democratic state Reps. Millie Hamner and Johnathan Singer wrote an email to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy leaders to call out ads the group has run. They say the TV spots contain “inaccurate and misleading statements” about the use of legal marijuana tax revenue in Colorado as well as rates of teen drug use.

“As members of the Colorado Legislature who played a central role in the budgeting and appropriation of marijuana tax revenues, we feel it is our duty to set the record straight so that voters in both [Arizona and Colorado] have accurate information about this subject,” the letter reads. 

In an ad titled “Empty Promises,” two former Colorado school officials suggest that millions of dollars in tax revenue that were supposed to go to schools instead funded the regulation of the legal marijuana industry. Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb makes a similar claim in an ad titled “Mistake.”

“We can say with certainty that the claims about Colorado marijuana tax revenues featured in your committee’s ads range from highly misleading to wholly inaccurate,” the lawmakers write, citing multiple official state documents that illustrate their point. 

We can say with certainty that the claims about Colorado marijuana tax revenues featured in your committee’s ads range from highly misleading to wholly inaccurate. Colorado lawmakers in a letter to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy

More than $138 million was distributed to the state’s Department of Education for Colorado schools during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 fiscal years, according to a fact sheet produced by the department and an issue brief from Colorado Legislative Council staff. That figure significantly exceeds money distributed to fund the regulation of marijuana in the state, the lawmakers note. Moreover, $114 million of that Department of Education funding was distributed to the Building Excellent Schools Today program to build public schools in the state.

Funding for the BEST program also comes from state lottery spillover proceeds and interest, as well as the state land trust — all of which is put into a single fund and dispersed to districts and schools in need via grants. BEST only starting using marijuana tax revenue as part of its total grant money last year, The Huffington Post reported at the time.  

Additionally, the lawmakers criticize the “Empty Promises” ad for suggesting that marijuana use among teens in the state has skyrocketed. They cited a recent study from the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment, which found that rates of teen marijuana use in Colorado have remained “relatively unchanged” since 2009. The study, which the lawmakers said was funded with more than $1 million in marijuana tax revenue, also found that teen usage rates in the state are about the same as the national average. 

Those findings line up with those of a large-scale federal study published in September that found that the movement toward marijuana legalization in multiple states hasn’t necessarily increased young people’s access to the drug. Although more adults in general are using marijuana nationwide, according to the study, the percentage of teens who use, abuse or depend upon the drug actually decreased between 2002 and 2014.

More than two dozen states have rejected prohibition in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational purposes in recent years, and several more, including Arizona, are considering doing so this year. Colorado was the first state in the nation and the first government in the world to establish a regulated marijuana marketplace — a profound shift in drug policy, and one that some lawmakers and law enforcers in the state thought would not roll out as successfully as it has.

Four years after passing the amendment that legalized recreational marijuana for adults, a majority of Colorado voters continue to say that legalization has had a positive impact on the state and its economy. 

“We respectfully request that you stop airing or otherwise publishing campaign ads that contradict these facts,” the lawmakers write in their letter. “We also trust they will be reflected in any of your future communications to Arizona voters regarding Colorado’s experience with regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use.”

The ARDP responded later on Monday with its own letter claiming that the lawmakers had cited inaccurate information. The anti-legalization group did not say whether it would alter or pull its ads.

Read the full text of the letter from Colorado lawmakers below:

Dear Mr. Leibsohn and Ms. Polk:

It has been brought to our attention that your committee has produced and aired television ads that convey inaccurate and misleading statements about Colorado’s experience with regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use.

Specifically, your ad titled “Empty Promises” features a former Colorado local school official saying, “We were promised millions of new revenues for our schools, but they were empty words.” It also features a Colorado school principal saying, “Politicians spent more money on regulation and bureaucracy than in the classroom.” Similarly, in your ad titled “Mistake,” former Denver mayor Wellington Webb says, “We were promised new money for education. Instead, that money is going to regulation and the pot industry.”

The proponents of the initiative you are opposing and members of the Arizona media have raised questions about the validity of these claims. We have also heard from Colorado residents who read or saw stories about these ads in our local media outlets and were confused by the claims that they make.

As members of the Colorado Legislature who played intimate roles in the budgeting and appropriation of marijuana tax revenues, we feel it is our duty to set the record straight so that voters in both states have accurate information about this subject.  

We can say with certainty that the claims about Colorado marijuana tax revenues featured in your committee’s ads range from highly misleading to wholly inaccurate. As you can see in the attached issue brief provided by Colorado Legislative Council staff and fact sheet produced by the Colorado Department of Education:

  • Of the approximately $220.8 million in total marijuana tax revenue distributions made in FY 2015-16 and FY 2016-17, more than $138.3 million was distributed to the Colorado Department of Education to benefit Colorado schools. This far exceeds the amount that was distributed for the purposes of regulating marijuana, which included $15.8 to the Department of Revenue, $2.4 million to the Department of Agriculture, $2.8 million to the Department of Law, and less than $500,000 to the Governor’s Office of Marijuana Coordination.
  • Of those funds, $114.9 million was distributed to the Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) public school construction program. When Colorado voters adopted Amendment 64, they were promised a tax on wholesale marijuana transfers would raise $40 million per year for the BEST program. That tax actually raised more than $40 million in the last fiscal year, resulting in $40 million for the BEST program in FY 2016-17, plus an additional $5.7 million for Colorado’s Public School Fund.
  • In addition to the funds raised for the BEST program and the Public School Fund, more than $5.5 million was used to increase the presence of health professionals in our schools, and more than $4.3 million was used for health-related programs in schools. In addition, $2.9 million was used for drop-out prevention programs, and $2.9 million was used for school bullying prevention and education.

It is also worth noting that more than $1.5 million in marijuana tax funds were distributed to the Department of Public Health and Environment to conduct the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which is the most comprehensive survey of our state’s middle and high school students. As you can see in the attached fact sheet from that department, the survey’s findings contradict the claim that “marijuana use among our students soared,” which is made in your ad titled “Empty Promises.” Rates of teen use have actually remained relatively unchanged since 2009 and are in line with the national average. In fact, they were slightly lower last year than they were prior to legalization.

We respectfully request that you stop airing or otherwise publishing campaign ads that contradict these facts. We also trust they will be reflected in any of your future communications to Arizona voters regarding Colorado’s experience with regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use.

Sincerely,

Rep. Jonathan Singer

Member, Colorado House Appropriations Committee

Rep. Millie Hamner

Chair, Colorado Joint Budget Committee

Vice Chair, Colorado House Appropriations Committee

Sen. Pat Steadman

Member, Colorado Joint Budget Committee

Member, Colorado Senate Appropriations Committee

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