Suthers' reefer madness 

City Sage

According to a poll commissioned by FOX 21 News and the Independent, John Suthers has a comfortable lead in the mayoral race, which may increase as undecided voters make up their minds.

The canny Suthers is running a Reaganesque campaign, full of airy generalities and comfortable platitudes. Did he support the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority? Will he push forward on City for Champions? Will he yield to Council's demand to appoint its own staffers and hire its own attorney?

His website, unlike those of Mary Lou Makepeace and Amy Lathen, has neither action plans nor specific policies.

Suthers portrays himself as one who is above partisan battles, whose only concern during his 13-year tenure as Colorado attorney general was to uphold the state constitution and represent the people of Colorado.

There's an old saying about trial attorneys: "If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If the law is on your side, pound the law. And if neither the law nor the facts are on your side, pound the table!"

As attorney general, Suthers fiercely opposed gay marriage, certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act and marijuana legalization. He argues that his position obliged him to do so, but his actions and public statements often seem taken directly from the Republican playbook.

It seems that he spent a lot of time pounding the table.

In an October 2012 radio interview, Suthers repeated and even exaggerated several anti-marijuana canards.

"In fact," Suthers told the interviewer on Denver station KLZ-AM 560, "if you start smoking marijuana before the age of 18, you've got a 1 in 4 chance of being a serious drug addict." (You can find the whole transcript at tiny.cc/i67vux.)

Suthers may have been citing some dubious stats from anti-dope crusaders that actually put the likelihood of marijuana dependency at 1 of 6 youthful users. But with safety in mind, I thought I'd better informally survey some of my colleagues. Of the dozen or so folks questioned, two had never smoked marijuana, while the rest of us had first toked between ages 14 and 19. Since I often ingest an edible at bedtime as a sleep aid, I guess I'm the only serious drug addict in the office — everyone else is drearily straight.

In a March 2012 Scientific American article, authors Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld wrote about the supposed addictive qualities of the demon weed.

"Of those who had tried marijuana at least once," they wrote, referring to a large-scale 1994 survey, "about 9 percent eventually fit a diagnosis of cannabis dependence. The corresponding figure for alcohol was 15 percent; for cocaine, 17 percent; for heroin, 23 percent; and for nicotine, 32 percent. So although marijuana may be addictive for some, 91 percent of those who try it do not get hooked."

Suthers' next assertion seemed to be fact-based.

"And one of the emergency admissions," he continued, "and you can look this up, in the National Institute of Health, we've got skyrocketing — marijuana is second to alcohol in the cause of emergency room admissions."

I did look it up, and it turns out that the NIH figures actually put marijuana third, behind cocaine. More importantly, as Christopher Ingraham wrote for the Washington Post in 2014, the marijuana stat is a "decontextualized factoid."

"These numbers are meaningless," Ingraham explained, "without knowing how many people are using the drugs to start with. When you consider that there are approximately 70 times more marijuana users than heroin users in the United States, it makes sense that more of the former are going to the hospital than the latter."

Asked this week about the "decontextualized factoid" argument, Suthers was unwavering: "I don't think there's anything wrong, stating the facts. If you want to say it's out of context, go ahead."

I'm not a lawyer, but I think I've got a winning case.

Your honor, Mr. Suthers' assertions are without sound basis in fact. I ask for a dismissal of all charges against my client, Ms. Marijuana, and a directed verdict of not guilty!

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