NEW YORK (MainStreet) The much ballyhooed marijuana legalization in Colorado and the evergreen state of Washington has excited the marijuana movement like nothing else. Enthusiasm about expanding legalization to other states gives the term "Rocky Mountain High" a whole new meaning.
Reports are that financiers are lining up to invest in marijuana dispensaries because of the big profits in selling weed. Could there be a Colorado and Washington Green Rush? Absolutely, to invoke Sonny Corleone in "The Godfather," there is a lot of money in that green stuff. But as Don Vito said, ".... drugs, that's a dirty business."
Legalization proponents scoff at this notion. They say marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. Even President Barack Obama has suggested as such.
This is not true. Here are some facts that have not been prominently mentioned in the media.
Yes, marijuana legalization will be profitable. Vices always are. If profits are the sole criterion then crack, heroin, child prostitution, snuff films, etc. should all be legalized. After all, tobacco and alcohol are profitable. But these industries leave the public to clean the mess made from addiction and abuse of their products. So too it could be with marijuana. The costs will exceed the benefits.
Here are some reasons why.
"Studies indicate that usage will increase to levels near between those of tobacco and alcohol users," said David G. Evans, executive director of the Drug Free Schools Coalition. Evans is a former research scientist with the Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse in the New Jersey Department of Health, and the user increase will cost society in various ways.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that marijuana users have a 78% increase in absenteeism over non-users. This same study also said marijuana users had 85% more injuries at work than non-users and disciplinary problems were 64% greater among users than non-users.
For its part, the Department of Health and Human Services said employees testing positive for marijuana averaged absentee rates 75% higher than those that tested negative.
Marijuana also accounted for the second highest Emergency Department (ED) admissions according to the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration. There were 402 ED visits per 100,000 population involving illicit drugs in 2011. Cocaine was the most common drug (162.1 visits per 100,000) followed closely by marijuana (146.2 visits per 100,000).
A spike in usage will, ironically, stress the health care system -- this for a drug known to alleviate pain for sickness.
So yes, there will be profits from legalizing marijuana. But there will be losses too - they will not just be in dollars and cents.
Though in his recent New Yorker interview Obama remarked that marijuana was no worse than alcohol, the Netherlands apparently has a different opinion -- and a wealth of substantive experience based on decriminalization.
"There are young people who abuse soft drugs," Dr. Ernest Bunning, a Dutch health minister, told Foreign Affairs. "The place that cannabis takes in their lives becomes so dominant they don't have space for other important things in life. They crawl out of bed in the morning, grab a joint, don't work, smoke another joint."
The Dutch policy toward marijuana returned to stricter enforcement. The Dutch government said, in August 2004, that "an inter-ministerial policy paper on cannabis" indicated that 'cannabis is not harmless' neither for the abusers, nor for the community."
Obama also misstated marijuana law enforcement policy. He said in that interview, "Middle-class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do."
According to the FBI, in 2012, 42% of drug abuse violation arrests were for marijuana possession; 48,389 suburbanites, younger than 18, were arrested for drug abuse violations; 73% of suburbanites arrested for drug violations were white.
By any calculation that adds up to a lot of white, middle-class, suburban kids getting locked up for smoking pot.
As far as Obama's assertion that pot smokers go to jail long-term - according to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 1997, just 1.6% of the state inmate population were held for offenses involving only marijuana, and 0.7% were incarcerated with marijuana possession as the only charge. Some 0.3% of state prisoners in 1997 who were convicted just for marijuana possession were first time offenders.
The marijuana debate has inundated people with a great many specious facts favoring legalization. As much as the "Green Movement" has been boosted by the rallying cries of investors and small business owners, too many are failing to recognize the delinquency and malaise the drug could have en masse on our society and economy in workforce productivity, health care spending and beyond.
--Written by Michael P. Tremoglie for MainStreet