USA: Big Pot – What Price for the People?

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What Big Pot doesn’t want you to know about costs of legalizing marijuana

June 13, 2019

Lobbyists and lawmakers everywhere like to make bold-but-reality-challenged claims to advance legislation. But in its push to legalize commercial weed, the marijuana industry has taken legislative myth-peddling to brazen new lows.

New York’s lawmakers have a few days left to show the nation they won’t be duped. Here are some of the tallest of the tales that have swirled around Albany, thanks to the pot industry:

First, the industry claims high-potency commercial weed will provide social justice and economic opportunity for minority communities.

African American legislators in New Jersey didn’t fall for that, and their New York counterparts shouldn’t, either. The pot industry – backed by Big Tobacco and wealthy, mostly white Wall Street investors – is looking to line its own pockets. These multinational forces aren’t getting into pot to help minority entrepreneurs.

Remember when liquor stores and smoke shops were clustered in largely low-income and minority neighborhoods? Pot shops selling high-potency drugs engineered to create regular customers won’t lead to any more empowerment and opportunity for urban populations than clustered vice stores did.

There has been no quantifiable positive economic impact for such communities in legalized states. In fact, taxpayers and communities have had to shoulder an estimated $4.50 in social costs for every $1 in revenue, according to researchers at the Centennial Institute.

Second, the pot industry wants people to think that marijuana laws are the cause of gross racial disparities in arrest and incarceration rates. The argument: Legalize pot to reduce minority arrests.

That’s another canard. No state that passed legalization has seen a drop in prison populations. Studies out of Colorado and Washington show African Americans and Hispanics are still twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana. In Washington, DC, marijuana arrests nearly tripled after legalization.

A study funded by the National Institutes of Health showed that the density of marijuana dispensaries was linked to increased property crimes. Researchers found that in Denver, neighborhoods adjacent to marijuana businesses saw more property crimes each year than neighborhoods without a marijuana shop. Of course, crime and other social pathologies related to pot hit lower-income areas first and hardest.

People shouldn’t get locked up for having a joint in their pocket. Legislators can look to advance criminal justice reforms concerning possession of small amounts of marijuana without throwing the doors open to a predatory industry that will have significant and irreconcilable impact on public health. That’s real social justice.

Third, the industry is peddling the message that pot revenue will do everything from fix the subways to help schools in minority neighborhoods.

Jack-pot! Colorado surpasses $1B in marijuana tax revenue

But former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said it best when he called pot revenue “a drop in the bucket.” Former California Gov. Jerry Brown agreed, noting that “we knew there wasn’t going to be any money.” Revenues aren’t going to swell in New York, either. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s best estimate for pot revenue is $300 million annually, paltry for a state with annual expenditures of $175 billion.

The industry never talks about costs. Law enforcement costs to handle public safety concerns are estimated to range from $820.3 million to more than $1 billion over the first five years for new training and equipment, according to a report from my group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, and the New York State Sheriffs’ Association. That’s to say nothing of the price of mental-health and other social-services at the local level.

A Washington state traffic study of 2,355 drivers found that only six months after introducing commercial pot, daytime drivers testing positive for THC almost tripled. Traffic fatalities that involved drivers intoxicated with marijuana in Colorado rose by 86% between 2013 and 2017, with roughly one-fifth of all traffic fatalities involving a driver testing positive for marijuana by 2017.

Finally, pro-pot activists want lawmakers to think that this is about smoking some harmless joints. They ignore the fact that the industry is investing billions in high-potency edible and vaping products that are up to 99% THC. There is a growing body of medical and scientific research that demonstrates prolonged exposure to THC is leading to drops in IQ, psychosis, suicide, depression, schizophrenia and other disorders.

Immediately following commercialization in Colorado, calls to poison centers skyrocketed 80%, because high-potency THC is a dangerous drug.

New York’s leaders shouldn’t buy the spin or allow themselves to be pawns in a corporate-funded social experiment for profit. They need to get this right.

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