Get Out Your Checkbook: What Legalized Marijuana is Going to Cost!

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Many people fail to realize that alcohol, although legal, costs employers and taxpayers millions of dollars each year. In 2010, the cost of excessive alcohol use in the United States reached $249 billion, and two out of every five dollars of those costs were paid by federal, state, and local governments–all funded by the taxpayer. In fact, of this $249 billion drain on the American economy, $179 billion is directly associated to workplace productivity, and an additional $28 billion to health care costs. It is fair to assume that, as marijuana continues to be legalized, its costs will begin to equal or even surpass those of alcohol.1

Marijuana is not just impacting driving and positive drug tests. “Based on data from the Seattle Police Department, property crime rates within Seattle (e.g., burglary, motor vehicle theft, and larceny) have been rising at a precipitous pace since possessing an ounce or less of marijuana became legal on Dec. 6, 2012. In 2012, the number of property crimes documented by the Seattle Police Department was a little over 32,000. By 2013, the number of property crime reports rose to 36,815. Last year, property crimes in Seattle jumped once more to 40,666 incidents. All told, property crimes have increased by more than a quarter in the two years following the legalization of marijuana, with motor vehicle theft witnessing the biggest increase–up more than 50 percent in two years.”3

In 2012, Denver County documented 56,522 total crimes. In 2013, after the November 2012 legalization of recreational marijuana, the county reported a 29 percent increase in total crimes, to 72,644, and another jump of 15 percent–making the total crime incidents 83,730, in 2014. Crime is a complicated issue, but it is impossible to ignore these numbers.

In addition, marijuana has a yet-undefined impact on health care. We know that smoking one joint is as damaging as smoking five cigarettes and that marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogens than tobacco. We know that there is an impact on focus and learning and that smoking marijuana has an impact on short-term memory, links to depression, and impaired coordination. All of this adds up to higher health care costs that are, again, paid in large part by taxpayers and employers.

Even if marijuana is legalized solely for recreational purposes–and were to follow the model of the 21st Amendment that gives states the right to allow the manufacture and sale of alcohol, govern importing into and out of the state, control distribution, and monitor and enforce possession–it could not be legalized in its current form. The Federal Alcohol Administration Act sets labeling and advertising rules and prevents consumers from being deceived by misleading statements as to the quality and identity of a product. Following the alcohol standards, it would also require marijuana sold in individual states to indicate the content sold in each product. But, again, marijuana is not following those standards.

For employers, the costs are real: workers’ compensation claims, higher health care and liability insurance premiums, litigation expense. All of these will impact the bottom line, making drug testing and a sound drug policy even more critical. Drug testing, when consistently applied, will assist in protecting an employer from claims of negligent hiring. Failure of an employer to conduct a reasonable investigation of an employee who impacts the safety of co-workers, or the public at large, could result in the additional cost of negligent hiring claims.

Taxpayers and employers alike need to educate themselves, advocate on their own behalf, and protect themselves against the costs of marijuana legalization. They need to reconsider the idea that legalization is a harmless, personal decision For complete story


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