A recent column by state Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, called commercial pot a “gateway to equity, opportunity, and moving Wisconsin forward.” Such an outlandish statement requires some fact checking.
First, today’s pot is not old Woodstock weed. It is much more harmful than it used to be — with today’s pot candies, gummies, waxes and concentrates reaching 99% THC potency — far greater than the 5% weed of the 1960s. Propaganda claiming this is not only harmless — but a benefit — ignores the significant public health, safety and fiscal impacts of legalization.
Sargent claims that only through “full legalization” can we fix the “massive and egregious racial disparities” associated with current arrest rates. But it is a false premise. She is conflating decriminalization with legalization.
Of course, people should not be arrested and locked up for a joint. But that can be fixed without creating a massive new industry targeting our kids. Indeed, pot commercialization hasn’t been a social justice solution in states that have legalized. In cities across legalized states, we’ve seen Big Marijuana open up shops in minority neighborhoods, targeting and victimizing these communities just like Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol before them. Prison populations are not going down because of legal pot, and arrest disparities remain.
Today in Denver, there are more pot shops than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined, and they are overwhelmingly found in minority and low-income communities. Is that social equity?
Legalization is no budget boon, either. For six of the legalized states where data is available, four of them (Colorado, Washington, California and Alaska) missed initial revenue targets. Former Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown even admitted that “we knew there wasn’t going to be any money,” and former Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said it best when he called pot revenue “a drop in the bucket.”
And don’t forget the social costs. The taxpayer burdens associated with increased pot use include social services and law enforcement — and they gobble up the tax revenue. One Colorado study estimated that for every dollar in marijuana tax revenue, the costs to government could be as high as $4.50.
A study conducted by Smart Approaches to Marijuana in conjunction with the New York State Sheriffs' Association recently found that more than half of the projected pot revenue in New York would need to go toward law enforcement and protecting public safety from skyrocketing drugged driving incidents seen in other states. Of note, New York lawmakers declined to commercialize weed this year.
Perhaps most shockingly, what Sargent fails to even acknowledge in her piece is the growing scientific evidence of significant physical and psychological impacts of prolonged marijuana use, especially today’s high-potency products.
Kid-friendly products — containing up to 99% THC (the mind-altering chemical that gets a user “high”) — that come in the various forms including gummy bears, chocolate bars, lollipops, drinks, and even vaping oils and waxes, are now staples of the market.
Today’s pot products are already having devastating mental and physical consequences on users. The National Academies of Science reviewed thousands of studies on pot use and found there are significant links with serious mental illness, such as psychosis, schizophrenia, depression, and suicide. Prolonged pot use has also been scientifically proven to lower IQ and motor function and can cause particular damage to developing brains in young people.
Readers should demand real answers from our representatives about why some are so quick to throw Wisconsinites to the pot profiteers. If they really care about social justice, we’d see a push for youth prevention, treatment, and meaningful decriminalization policies that don’t welcome another addiction-for-profit industry into our state. We need our elected officials to stand with parents, doctors, educators and law enforcement who understand that more drugs in our communities is not the way forward for Wisconsin.
Jason Turner serves as executive director of the Secretaries Innovation Group, a network of state human service and workforce secretaries that is dedicated to finding solutions favoring healthy families. Additionally, he is part of a growing coalition of concerned Wisconsinites joining together to push back against efforts to legalize marijuana in the state.
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