November 6, 2015

November 6, 2015 | Commentary on Rule of Law, War On Drugs

Pot legalization: Up in smoke

One of the most surprising results from this week's state elections was Ohio voters voting overwhelmingly against Big Pot. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, they defeated a ballot measure that would have permitted the legalization of marijuana in the Buckeye State.

Misleadingly named ResponsibleOhio, the measure would have allowed the commercial production, retail sale and personal use of marijuana. Yet despite Big Pot's $25 million cash infusion into the effort, voters rejected the spin that marijuana legalization is safe or in the best interests of citizens.

Of course, the Ohio drubbing won't stop Big Pot. It's pushing legalization in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Florida for 2016. Fortunately, legalization efforts failed this legislative session in Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Missouri, New York and Vermont.

Voters would be wise to watch the disasters unfolding in Colorado and Washington state. Both legalized pot a couple years ago with the promise that pot tax money would bring tax revenue increases and better-educated children.

The negative side effects of marijuana in Colorado are real. Recent federally funded reports show that:

-- The majority of DUI drug arrests involve marijuana.

-- Youth consumption has increased.

-- Drug-related suspensions/expulsions (mostly for marijuana) increased 32 percent over a five-year period.

-- The number of college users has increased.

-- Almost 50 percent of Denver arrestees tested positive for marijuana.

-- Marijuana-related emergency room visits increased 57 percent from 2011 to 2013.

-- Marijuana-related hospitalizations increased 82 percent since 2008.

And as I have written about before, pot-positive traffic fatalities doubled between 2007 and 2012, a trend that's continued to this day.

Big Pot -- the next Big Tobacco -- peddles the notion that by legalizing pot, the black market for the drug dries up. That's not what has happened, as I predicted long ago. State pot stores charge more than black marketers who don't have to pass the cost of the tax onto willing customers.

So the black market, composed of criminal gangs and cartels, thrives. Even pot smokers can figure out that you can buy cheaper dope from the unlicensed seller than from the state-sanctioned store.

And when Big Pot pushes high-potency pot products such as marijuana gummies, candy and soda, as they do in Colorado and Washington State, you start to realize that they are marketing a highly addictive product to children. Sound familiar?

And the bad news isn't confined to the states with risky legalization schemes. According to a report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association, the legalization of marijuana and quadrupling in the use of prescriptions drugs since 1999 has resulted in increasing threats to road safety nationwide. Almost 40 percent of fatally injured drivers tested positive for drugs, which rivals the numbers of drivers who died with alcohol in their systems.

Worse, today's pot isn't the organic low potency weed that Cheech and Chong smoked. Today's genetically manipulated pot has astronomical levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. There are numerous new scientific studies pointing to the inherent dangers of marijuana. For example, the British health research journal The Lancet Psychiatry recently concluded that teens who smoke marijuana are "also 60 percent less likely to graduate college and seven times more likely to attempt suicide."

The recent findings by the Journal of Addiction from Kings College London show that marijuana is highly addictive, causes mental health problems, and is a gateway drug to other illegal and dangerous drugs. That report also found that regular adolescent marijuana users don't go as far in school as their non-using peers, that they were more likely to use other illegal drugs, that pot use produced intellectual impairment, that its use doubled the risk of being diagnosed with schizophrenia, and that it increased the risk of heart attacks in middle-aged adults.

There is a reason the American Medical Association, the American Lung Association, and other reputable medical associations and professionals oppose legalizing marijuana. Even The Washington Post urged D.C. residents to vote against a legalization ballot initiative in 2014, saying that marijuana is not harmless and that voters should see how things turn out in Colorado.

Ohio voters were wise to reject Big Pot's slick lobby campaign. If only voters in other states had the common sense of the Buckeye State.

-Charles "Cully" Stimson is the manager of the National Security Law Program and senior legal fellow for the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Charles "Cully" Stimson Manager, National Security Law Program and Senior Legal Fellow
Center for National Defense

This piece was originally published via Tribune News Service