Colorado voters this month legalized recreational use of marijuana, endorsing the smoking of one substance while strongly discouraging the smoking of tobacco. Recent policy battles in Oklahoma have focused on becoming more like Colorado when it comes to tobacco regulation. Oklahoma is one of only a few states where city regulation of tobacco use can't exceed state limits.
In 2011, Gary Cox, director of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, argued for granting cities greater regulatory control of tobacco use by citing the Colorado city of Pueblo. In 2003 that community required all workplaces to be smoke free. Within 18 months, Cox said, Pueblo's heart attack hospitalizations declined 41 percent.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of tobacco smoking among Colorado adults is lower than the national median, yet the state has embraced marijuana smoking. Research shows both products involve health risks.
A 2007 study by New Zealand's Medical Research Institute determined one marijuana joint has the same impact as smoking up to five cigarettes in blocking the flow of air. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, another study found those who smoke marijuana frequently but who don't smoke tobacco have more health problems and miss more days of work than nonsmokers, often for respiratory illnesses.
It makes no sense to portray cigarettes as a societal plague but marijuana as a state-sanctioned, harmless vice. If the Colorado vote isn't a victory for regulatory consistency, it is a win for one group. Border-county police departments in neighboring states are poised to reap a bonanza in associated tickets and fines.
In Oklahoma, Cimarron County Sheriff Keven McIntire reports that a quarter of marijuana arrests are “medical” users coming from Colorado. He predicts that figure will climb now that people no longer have to even fake an illness.