Following Colorado’s Lead on Pot Is a Bad Idea
This column by ACRU Policy Board member Hans von Spakovsky was published April 26, 2017 by Philly.com.
The man who would outlaw sugary sodas wants to legalize marijuana. How whack is that?
When a weekend raid by city police netted 50 pounds of marijuana, four guns, $50,000 in cash, and 100 pounds of THC-infused edibles like gummy bears, Mayor Kenney opined that the “real solution” is to legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania “as they did in Colorado.”
This assertion raised many eyebrows, and quite a few questions. Such as: How, exactly, does legalization fix the gummy bear problem?
Small children love them, and when THC-infused candies are floating though the city, kids can easily get their hands on them without anyone realizing they’re about to injest a drug. Yet Kenney thinks the amount of police “resources that were put into [this raid] may have been a little overkill.”
Despite claims to the contrary, pot today is a dangerous substance. That’s why it is classified as a Schedule I controlled drug along with heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. It is not alcohol.
Alcohol can be abused, but for most people, it is not addictive and is not consumed to the point of intoxication. Low-level consumption even has some positive health benefits: medical studies show that moderate amounts reduce the risk of heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and death from a heart attack.
None of that is true with marijuana, which today is many times stronger that what it was in the 1960s. Numerous medical studies have shown that it is far more likely to cause addiction, has no healthful properties, and in fact is deleterious to health. Long-term use has been shown to impair the immune system and cause short-term memory loss; its toxic properties can result in birth defects, pain, respiratory systems damage, brain damage, and stroke.
It is especially dangerous to the brain development of young people. It causes cognitive degradation and is associated with lower test scores and lower educational attainment. A study published by Lancet, a British health research journal, found that teens who smoke marijuana are 60 percent less likely to graduate from college and seven times more likely to attempt suicide. Gummy bears anyone?
And is following Colorado’s lead really such a good idea? Marijuana-related traffic fatalities in Colorado have gone up 100 percent since it was legalized, despite the fact that the overall traffic fatality rate in Colorado has gone down since 2007.
According to a 2014 government report by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, the majority of DUI arrests now involve marijuana. Pot use by young people between the ages of 12 to 17, those most vulnerable to the drug’s damaging effects, is now 39 percent higher than the national average. Drug-related suspensions/expulsions from schools increased 32 percent, and the vast majority were for marijuana violations.
The use of marijuana by college students in Colorado was 42 percent higher than the national average, and the use by adults was 51 percent higher.
And what about the gummy bear crowd? Marijuana-related exposure for children aged 5 and under increased 268 percent. Colorado’s exposure rate was triple the national average, while the number of pets poisoned from ingesting marijuana increased four-fold. And this doesn’t take into account the increase documented in the Rocky Mountain report of marijuana-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
Unlike soda or alcohol, marijuana is also a gateway drug. This means that marijuana legalization, which leads to increased use of marijuana, will also lead to increased use of even harder drugs, which often leads users into a life of crime.
The same Colorado study found that 48.4 percent of Denver adults arrested in 2013 tested positive for marijuana. Talk to any prosecutor, judge, police officer, or probation officer involved in the criminal justice system, and they will tell you that the vast majority of violent criminal defendants they see test positive for illegal drugs, including marijuana.
Marijuana trafficking is also linked to crimes ranging from assault and murder to money laundering and smuggling. Legalizing it isn’t going to prevent that. Addicts who can’t afford it will continue to commit crimes in order to feed their habits. Black marketers will continue smuggling to avoid paying prohibitive licensing fees and taxes. And the crimes committed by those intoxicated on legal marijuana will continue and likely increase as the number of users goes up —- as has happened in Colorado.
Unfortunately, the personal use of small amounts of marijuana has already been decriminalized in Philadelphia. Decriminalizing large-scale trafficking is a dangerous, reckless proposal that would result in increased crime and leave even more of the city’s residents —- particularly its youth —- damaged by a dangerous drug.