In my last post I outlined my initial arguments against California’s quest to legalize marijuana. I concluded by adding that I would follow up with the statistics to support my arguments. So here are the cold hard facts against the legalization of pot and why it will not solve California’s budget crises.
Proponents of California’s plan say:
Regulation of marijuana will bring its distribution under the rule of law.
At the center of California’s quest for legalization is Richard Lee, founder of Oaksterdam University, an training program designed to industrialize and professionalize the cannabis industry within Oakland, California. His idea is to create a city much like Amsterdam, where pot is legalized, regulated, and sold just like beer or liquor.
He, along with the other proponents of legalizing marijuana, believe that if the government can regulate the drug, it will eliminate drug dealers and black market buyers. They look at Amsterdam as their shining city on the hill. What they don’t realize is the tremendous crime and underground drug markets that followed the legalization of pot into Amsterdam. In 2008, Amsterdam began closing marijuana shops because of the criminality it brought with it. The presence of hard drugs, and subsequently crime, skyrocketed in the city. The reality is that legalizing pot gives hard drug dealers a completely legitimate front to their business, making them more elusive than ever before.
The illegal market for pot will not wither and die if the government seizes control. If the state sets the limit at one ounce, dealers will start selling two ounces. If California raises taxes on it, consumers will go to dealers who can sell it cheaper. By allowing citizens to grown their own pot, California is training an army of individual salesmen who will find ways to make their product cheaper and more potent than the government’s.
I might also add that Amsterdam boasts legalized prostitution. Is this the city we want to model ourselves after?
Legalizing marijuana will generate billions in revenue for the state of California through sales and taxes.
Supporters of the bill say legalizing marijuana could save the state $200 million a year by reducing public safety costs. It could also generate tax revenue for local governments, along with the unseen and uncalculated economic impact for California: tourists, much like the ones who dashed to Amsterdam, who will flood to California to taste the forbidden fruit. The idea is to model California’s marijuana industry after the existing billion dollar alcohol and cigarette industries in the United States.
What these supporters fail to report is the fact that alcohol and cigarette users cost the states millions of dollars each year for rehabilitation and recovery. As of 2008, California had 208 drug courts alone, more than any other state in the nation. (http://www.adp.ca.gov/FactSheets/DrugCourtPrograms.pdf.) In 1998, California spent almost $11 billion to deal with substance abuse and addiction, according to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Obviously alcohol and hard drugs contribute the most to these statistics, but these numbers alone illuminate the already staggering burden that illegal or harmful substances cost the state.
As logic would have it, if you increase the number of drug users, you will increase the number of drug abusers. (Jack Cole, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and supporter of legalization, claims that there were 800,000 people arrested last year on marijuana charges.) So while California might arrest less criminals and clear some space in their prisons, there will no doubt be more drug abusers checking into rehab and more serious drug users on the streets.
Those who disagree with these statistics would argue that marijuana is inherently less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes (which seems to be true given scientific research) and will in no way incur the same costs to society. For argument’s sake, let’s compare some of the cost problems in an area that we know overlaps in terms of health risks: parental smoking.
Scientists on both sides of the aisle can go back and forth discussing the health risks of THC, the golden ingredient in cannabis, but any doctor can tell you that smoking hurts unborn babies and infants. Anytime you smoke, whether cigarettes or pot, you deny oxygen to the baby and risk serious health injuries. In the United States alone, “parental smoking has been estimated to cause direct medical expenditures of more than $2.5 billion per year to care for smoking-caused problems of exposed newborns, infants, and children.”(Aligne, CA & Stoddard, JJ, “Tobacco and Children: An Economic Evaluation of the Medical Effects of Parental Smoking,” Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 151:648-653, July 1997.)
In other studies, states actually saved money through cigarette prevention programs due to the reduction in health care costs. Research in California shows that its program, which began in 1989, reduced state healthcare costs by more than $100 million in its first seven years just by reducing the number of smoking-caused low-birthweight babies, with more than $11 million of those savings in the first two years. (Lightwood, JM, et al., “Short-Term Health and Economic Benefits of Smoking Cessation: Low Birth Weight,” Pediatrics, 104(6):1312-1320, December 1999.) Subsequent research indicates that California’s overall cost savings from reducing all smoking-affected births and birth complications during its first two years totaled roughly $20 million. (Miller, P, et al., “Birth and First-Year Costs for Mothers and Infants Attributable to Maternal Smoking,” Nicotine & Tobacco Research 3(1):25-35, February 2001.)
By legalizing pot, California will be reversing the savings generated by the existing cigarette prevention programs. If Californians want to rescue their sinking economy, they should build on some of their current, working programs. A healthier population is a cheaper population. California should be pushing their citizens away from drugs and toward healthy, cost-saving alternatives.
Legalizing marijuana will be far less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes, which are already legal.
Time and time again this is the argument that legalization supporters fall back on, as if it’s logical to right a wrong by allowing another. Granted, research to date suggests that marijuana is not as dangerous as alcohol or cigarettes, however, the problem is still serious enough that it does not warrant legalization.
First of all, any addiction doctor can tell you that pot is a legitimate gateway drug. The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found adolescents who smoke pot 85 times more likely to use cocaine than their non–pot smoking peers. And 60 percent of youngsters who use marijuana before they turn 15 later go on to use cocaine. For this reason alone, marijuana should be outlawed.
In 2007, Britain's The Guardian published an article describing the effects of smoking marijuana while pregnant. Evidence shows that the children of mothers who smoked during pregnancy are up to nine times more likely to develop attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) later in life. Rosalind Neuman, one of the authors of the study, said, "When genetic factors are combined with prenatal cigarette smoke exposure, the ADHD risk rises very significantly." These numbers do not take into account the additional increase in the risk of miscarriages, premature labor, and low birth rates due to the deprivation of oxygen to the baby.
All the these statistics come on the heels of CNN’s report last year that the average potency of marijuana exceeded 10 percent for the first time in 2009. Users today aren’t smoking the same type of pot their parents smoked in the 60s and 70s. Marijuana today is much more potent and most of the consumers do not realize it. While most of short term effects wear off within two or three hours, the drug itself lingers in the human body. THC is a fat-soluble substance that accumulates in the liver, lungs, and other organs and remains in the body for extended periods of time. Thus, frequent smoking can cause a harmful build up of THC that can lead to learning disabilities in children, short-term memory loss, schizophrenia, and may increase the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Beyond the personal health risks of pot are the unforeseen consequences. The California statute plans to make it illegal to drive while consuming marijuana. No one will deny that marijuana impairs coordination and balance, delays reaction time, and diminishes short-term memory much like driving under the influence of alcohol. Mothers Against Drunk Driving report that in 2008, an estimated 11,773 people died in drunk driving crashes involving a driver with an illegal BAC (.08 or greater). No one can predict the magnitude of the effects that pot will have on drivers, but it will undoubtedly inflict serious damage on Californians in terms of property and lives.
Americans want pot to be legal.
This is not true across the board, but recent polls suggest that support is growing. In May, Zogby polling surveyed 3937 voters and reported that 52 percent of Americans favor legalization, while only 37 percent oppose. A previous ABC News/Washington Post poll found 46 percent in support. In California, a Field Poll demonstrated 56 percent back legalization and sparked California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to call for an open debate on the issue of legalization ahead of the expected vote next November.
Support for the legalization of marijuana is at an all-time high, and it is not coming from political leaders. While proponents of the plan tend to pinhole Republicans as their main opposition, even President Obama was asked at a townhall whether we should legalize marijuana to help the economy and create jobs. He replied bluntly, “The answer is no, I don't think that's a good strategy to grow our economy.” If support for legalization is not coming from Washington D.C. then it must be coming from the culture.
The stoner image was once associated with hippies, beatniks, and the new age movement. It was Cheech and Chong; a small segment of the population that no one took seriously. Today, the movement has taken on an entirely new mantra. Recent movies, like the 2008 stoner comedy, “Pineapple Express” which raked in approximately $101 million, portray weed as the average man’s coping mechanism for life’s problems. Society used to label drug users rebels; today, they’re cool. Rock stars and hip-hop artists glorify weed to the point where if you’re not smoking it, then you’re not normal. Our culture’s biggest icons can’t tell you who our last ten presidents are, but they can tell you ten different types of weed, ten ways to smoke it, and ten ways to grow it. Pot has become embedded in our collective bloodstream and now we have to fight harder than ever to cleanse ourselves of it.