PHOENIX -- Three Colorado state legislators are calling on opponents of the Arizona measure to legalize recreational pot to stop airing what they say are misleading and inaccurate ads.
Colorado State Sen. Pat Steadman and Reps. Jonathan Singer and Millie Hamner, all Democrats, sent a letter to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, which opposes Proposition 205 in Arizona.
At least five ads claim Colorado schools have not seen money. The state began collecting taxes on recreational pot in 2014.
Steadman, who is one of six Colorado legislators who write the state's budget, says $138.3 million in tax revenue from fiscal years 2015 through 2017 went to the Colorado Department of Education to benefit schools.
Campaign manager Adam Deguire said the legislators have "been bought and paid for" by the marijuana industry and that they are pushing misleading information.
Letter from Colorado Officials to ARDP:
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.
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
"Empty Promises" advertisement mentioned in the letter above:
Read the letter from No on Prop 205:
Dear Representatives Singer, Hamner, and Senator Steadman:
Our campaign thanks you for your sudden interest and attentiveness to Arizona’s legislative process. Because education funding is so complex, we are grateful for the opportunity to highlight the pot industry’s broken promises, specifically pertaining to funding schools.
Cherry Creek School Superintendent Harry C. Bull, Jr. put it best saying, “The only thing that the legalization of marijuana has brought to our schools has been marijuana.” To address your citation of the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, any expert familiar with fair reporting and reliable surveys would recognize the following about the survey:
- In considering survey results, response rates are important. The gold standard for government surveys and any work that deserves any attention should come in at roughly 70 to 85 percent response rate. The Healthy Kids survey comes in at almost half that, at about 46 percent. This is not a reliable survey.
- Who was sampled? As Colorado legislators, you know best that some of the largest counties in Colorado were excluded: Douglas County, El Paso County, and Jefferson County. These excluded counties surround Denver – the city home to 70 percent of all retail pot stores in Colorado. Clearly the survey is not representative of affected populations.
- Even if we were to assume some level accuracy in this survey, the disaggregation of data would still disprove your claims that teen use has not increased. In Denver, since the complete legalization of marijuana, regular marijuana use increased substantially among 11th and 12th graders, 29 and 11 percent, respectively. And statewide, 11th grade regular marijuana use increased 19 percent while 12th grade regular marijuana use increased by almost 15 percent. It’s important to review the full data set and not rely merely on headlines when drawing conclusions.
While flawed surveys may tell a creative story, they cannot change the reliable, firsthand accounts from real Colorado educators and civic leaders who are seeing the harmful effects of legal marijuana every day.
We have heard from a number of Colorado doctors, law enforcement officials, addiction and abuse specialists on the ground, lamenting in the disastrous impacts legalization has had in Colorado.
According to Dr. Steven Simerville, pediatrician and medical director of the newborn intensive care unit at Pueblo’s Saint Mary Corwin Medical Center, “In the first nine months of this year, 27 babies born at this hospital tested positive for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
That’s on track to be about 15 percent higher than last year.” Additionally, “In the first 10 months of this year, 71 teenagers came into the emergency room at this hospital with marijuana in their system, which is on track to be about 70 percent higher than last year.”
This trend is supported by research from the federal Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) report showing that Colorado now leads the nation in teen marijuana use – at a rate higher than 74 percent than the national average.
Again, we are thankful for your interest in the ballot initiative process here in Arizona. Unlike in Colorado, ballot initiatives that pass in the state of Arizona are only amendable with 3/4th of the legislature’s approval and only to further the purpose of the law. All the legislative fixes your state has been able to implement after recognizing the unintended consequences of recreational marijuana would not be permissible under current Arizona law. For this reason, it is extremely important for Arizona voters to understand the broken promises and risks involved with the complete legalization of marijuana.
Our campaign is supported by a broad coalition of bipartisan legislators, law enforcement organizations, medical associations, and business leaders throughout the state. And we are thankful that everyday citizens and current and former legislators from your state of Colorado are helping to share the tragic Colorado story with citizens in Arizona, standing up to the marijuana industry that has held so many Colorado cities and towns hostage since you legalized this drug.
It is understandable that you would be vocal in wanting to change Arizona’s marijuana laws to benefit the marijuana industry, given that you, the three legislators signed on to this letter, have accepted campaign contributions from the marijuana industry according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office.
It is disappointing, however, that you are politicizing an issue that is ultimately about public health and safety. When Colorado has long-time law enforcement professionals, like Pueblo County’s Sheriff Kirk Taylor saying, “I can tell you the black market is alive and well and thriving. In fact, it’s exploding,” certainly this is more credible than the fabrications of Prop 205’s proponents.
The Coloradoans featured in our ads are sharing their stories, not ours. And so long as Colorado citizens would like to warn Arizona citizens of the Colorado experience of broken promises for schools and increased teen drug use, we will be happy to relay this message to the voters of Arizona.
The Associated Press contributed to this report