By Doug Porter
California, Arizona, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts will be voting on legalizing the recreational use of marijuana this fall.
Some people, including many pro-legalization advocates, think this is about easing another legal intoxicant into society. It’s not. It’s about undoing a prohibition based on ‘scientific racism.’ It’s about a ‘war on drugs’ that served as a gateway towards militarization of law enforcement and eroded the constitutional rights of all Americans.
Legalizing pot won’t undo those things. In case you haven’t noticed, government and society rarely move backward. But legalization does provide a path moving forward that makes a lot more sense than the failed policies proceeding it.
A very liberal law legalizing the use of medical marijuana (1996) and ‘decriminalizing’ possession of pot (2011) hasn’t worked. A report by the Drug Policy Alliance reveals thousands of people in California are still being arrested for marijuana misdemeanors each year, and thousands more arrested for marijuana felonies.
Jolene Forman, an attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance, told the Washington Post, “These arrests fall disproportionately on black and Latino Californians. The only way to begin to repair these disparities is to move marijuana into a fully regulated market and to reduce or eliminate criminal prohibitions for minor marijuana activities.”
I should tell you up front that I’m not a likely customer for the impending wave of cannabis consumerism. The volatilized chemical compounds released by smoking pot sometimes irritates my lungs (I’m a neck breather) to the point of making me feel like I’m drowning in mucus. And I’m not interested in comestibles, thanks to a not-fun experience back in the days of the Dawn of Aquarius.
I do see legalization as a social justice issue. Public behavior offending the sensibilities of the elites and the strong strain of Calvinist piety in the dominant culture have served as a basis for repression of minorities and unconventional thinkers in Western civilization.
The Available Science – Health
The primary arguments against marijuana–health, safety, and the corruption of youth–no longer hold up as excuses to oppose legalization. Pot is already legal in four states. Affluent (mostly white) people consume it with increasing regularity behind not-so-closed doors. And the world hasn’t ended.
There are concerns about marijuana. Unfortunately, there’s too little science to legitimize or dispute those concerns. I’d love to wait around for the research to get done, but the government mostly blocks it. And you’ll never hear opponents of legalization advocating for marijuana being removed as a Schedule 1 drug by the DEA so actual research could take place. The last thing they want is evidence to take the place of the reefer madness stories they so willing peddle.
Eight conclusions in the reporting, based on available research, were:
- “…people who use marijuana did not show poor physical health by midlife with one exception: They are more likely to have gum disease.”
- About 9 percent of people who use marijuana become dependent on it, according to research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The study found the dependence rate is about 15 percent for people who drink alcohol, 17 percent for cocaine users and 32 percent for tobacco users.
- …negative impacts on IQ disappeared for people who started using at age 18, which is the age limit for California medical marijuana patients.
- “There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”
- …a study published in February in the journal JAMA Psychiatry that tracked users over time found no link between marijuana consumption and an increase in mood disorders.
- For people with a family history or symptoms of conditions such as schizophrenia, a 2014 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry suggests heavy cannabis use might trigger or worsen the illness.
- There’s no level of marijuana use that’s considered “safe” for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, per the experts, just as there’s no safe level of alcohol, tobacco or many other substances.
- A comprehensive 2014 study published in the International Journal of Cancer found “little evidence for an increased risk of lung cancer,” even among heavy or long-term cannabis smokers. Those results are buoyed by a number of other large studies, including an examination out of UCLA in 2006 that was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The Available Science – Safety
Marijuana gets people high. The physical reactions are different than other intoxicants, but there’s little doubt there is some impairment of skills and abilities.
Therefore, it’s not a good thing to drive or operate heavy machinery while stoned. Just as you should not while either drunk or under the influence of many legal drugs.
The nation’s laboratory for the impact of marijuana on driving is Colorado, and there is evidence that legalization has had adverse impacts on safety.
FactCheck.org took a look at the often competing claims about highway statistics since legalization (2012), ultimately saying the data was inconclusive:
A February 2015 “Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk” study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did find “a statistically significant increase” in crash risk (1.25 times) for drivers who tested positive for THC. But after the researchers controlled for age, gender, ethnicity and alcohol concentration level, increased crash risk associated with marijuana was no longer significant. This suggests these other variables “account for much of the increased risk associated … with THC,” write the study authors.
There’s also some evidence that medical marijuana laws may contribute to decreasing traffic fatalities. One study published in The Journal of Law & Economics in 2013 reviewed traffic fatalities in the 19 states that had passed medical marijuana laws by 2010 and found that “legalization is associated with an 8–11 percent decrease in traffic fatalities” for the year after the laws took effect. The researchers from the University of Colorado, Denver and elsewhere also found that the decrease is more significant for alcohol-related fatalities at 13.2 percent.
To be clear, there is evidence that “marijuana significantly impairs judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time,” according to the NIDA.
The Available Science – Young People
First of all, anybody who thinks keeping marijuana illegal will have an impact on its availability to minors hasn’t had a kid in school. It’s there. It’s everywhere.
More to the point should be a public outcry over the quantity of prescribed drugs being handed out to people under eighteen. Adderall and other stimulants have been used in the past year by more than 15% of high school seniors, according to the National institute on Drug Abuse.
Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs are harmful to the development of reasoning and intellect in minors. Putting undercover cops in schools and kids in jail hasn’t worked as a solution to this problem.
Show Me the Money
With legalization will come taxation and regulation.
From Ballotpedia, here’s a rundown on how (they think) the money will flow:
Proposition 64 would create two new excise taxes on marijuana. One would be a cultivation tax of $9.25 per ounce for flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves, with exceptions for certain medical marijuana sales and cultivation. The second would be a 15 percent tax on the retail price of marijuana. Taxes would be adjusted for inflation starting in 2020.
Local governments would be authorized to levy taxes on marijuana as well.
Revenue from the two taxes would be deposited in a new California Marijuana Tax Fund. First, the revenue would be used to cover costs of administrating and enforcing the measure. Next, it would be distributed to drug research, treatment, and enforcement, including:
- $2 million per year to the UC San Diego Center for Medical Cannabis Research to study medical marijuana.
- $10 million per year for 11 years for public California universities to research and evaluate the implementation and impact of Proposition 64. Researchers would make policy-change recommendations to the California Legislature and California Governor.
- $3 million annually for five years to the Department of the California Highway Patrol for developing protocols to determine whether a vehicle driver is impaired due to marijuana consumption.
- $10 million, increasing each year by $10 million until settling at $50 million in 2022, for grants to local health departments and community-based nonprofits supporting “job placement, mental health treatment, substance use disorder treatment, system navigation services, legal services to address barriers to reentry, and linkages to medical care for communities disproportionately affected by past federal and state drug policies.”
The remaining revenue would be distributed as follows:
- 60 percent for youth programs, including drug education, prevention, and treatment.
- 20 percent to prevent and alleviate environmental damage from illegal marijuana producers.
- 20 percent for programs designed to reduce driving under the influence of marijuana and a grant program designed to reduce negative impacts on health or safety resulting from the proposition.
In San Diego, Measure N will collect 5% of sales from legal pot sellers in the first year following legalization, rising to 8% in the second year. First-year revenues have been estimated at $22 million.
There are opponents to legalization coming from California’s already established growers. Prop 64 allows a five-year grace period for established farming operations to get legal. At that point, the door will be open for industrial-sized farms and corporate agricultural concerns will pour into the state.
Their point is on the way to eliminating a social injustice an economic injustice will occur.
They’re right. The Man is coming. And if marijuana advocates hadn’t all been squabbling amongst themselves for so many years, maybe they could have gotten a better deal.
It is what it is. Let’s legalize it and move on.
For More Information
Ballot Language: MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION. INITIATIVE STATUTE.
Legalizes marijuana under state law, for use by adults 21 or older. Imposes state taxes on sales and cultivation. Provides for industry licensing and establishes standards for marijuana products. Allows local regulation and taxation. Fiscal Impact: Additional tax revenues ranging from high hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1 billion annually, mostly dedicated to specific purposes. Reduced criminal justice costs of tens of millions of dollars annually.
A YES vote would mean: Adults 21 years of age or older could legally grow, possess, and use marijuana for nonmedical purposes, with certain restrictions. The state would regulate nonmedical marijuana businesses and tax the growing and selling of medical and nonmedical marijuana. Most of the revenue from such taxes would support youth programs, environmental protection, and law enforcement.
A NO vote would mean: Growing, possessing, or using marijuana for nonmedical purposes would remain illegal. It would still be legal to grow, possess, or use marijuana for medical purposes.
Polling: A Public Policy Institute of California survey taken in mid-September has 60% of likely voters favoring Prop 64, 36% oppoed and 4% undecided.
For information on the November 2016 General Election, see our San Diego 2016 Progressive Voter Guide
Other San Diego Free Press coverage of the 2016 general election.
Tomorrow: Props 65 & 67 – Revenege of the (Plastic) Bag Men. Followed by analysis of City of San Diego measures E thru N in the coming week.
Key Dates for the November 8, 2016 General Election –> pic.twitter.com/uEQEgPKHRk
— CA SOS Vote (@CASOSvote) September 12, 2016
On This Day: 1948 – Nearly 1,500 plantation workers struck Olaa Sugar, on Hawaii’s Big Island. 1968 – Apollo 7 was launched by the U.S. The first manned Apollo mission was the first in which live television broadcasts were received from orbit. Wally Schirra, Don Fulton Eisele and R. Walter Cunningham were the astronauts aboard. 1975 – Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham were married in Fayetteville, AR.
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