Sunday, October 21, 2018
There are typically two camps that exist when people argue for legalization. You have those who would want to set up a store and begin selling cannabis like the cash crop that it is, and those who couldn't care less what the strain is called as long as it stops their seizures, anxiety, opioid addiction, or whatever illness they have that is being treated by medical marijuana.
Does it matter what camp you're in? Is one more persuasive than the other? Medical marijuana seems to be the stronger camp when it comes to the act of actual legislation and implementation. That doesn't mean legislators aren't thinking about the profits, but it is easier to argue economics once you have a template thanks to medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana began its path to legalization in the 1990's when five states, Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, and Maine put into place their own versions of laws that legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Since then, medical marijuana has appeared to be the baby step before recreational legalization. It wasn't until 2012 that recreational marijuana became legal, and even then it was only Colorado and Washington.
Now, in 2018, we have 9 states and the District of Columbia with fully legal recreational marijuana and we seem to be on the path of increasing that number, but how?
One obvious argument for recreational legalization is the economic boom that comes with it. Colorado boasts a $506 million dollar profit from sales since recreational stores opened in 2014, according to CNN. In this current economic climate, that number should surely convince the public that marijuana is an incredibly profitable market and states should be running to legalize it. But why aren't they?
Fear. Marijuana is still a drug and drugs can be scary. Drugs lead to addiction, addiction leads to a downward spiral, and nobody wants their family or friends to go down that path. This argument comes in the form of driving while high. a recent Gallup pole shows that about 47% of the participants believe that driving will be less safe if there is legal marijuana. There hasn't been a scientifically proven way to determine if the driver themselves is high. We can test if there is THC present in the body but how long has it been there, is it enough to intoxicate this specific driver, and many more questions come in to play when assessing impaired driving.
Law enforcement in states with legalization have been trying to find a system that works together to maintain safety without assuming guilt. Certain states, like Colorado have implemented a legal limit of THC allowed to be present in the driver's system. Their officers have received special training, according to the state's website, that allow them to detect if a person is impaired due to drug use. This limit applies to MMJ and recreational users. The Washington Post compared two studies on the increase of auto accidents in states with legalization. The first was by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the second by The American Journal of Public Health. The American Journal found no increase in fatal car crashed but the Highway Safety found a 3% increase in auto accidents.
This is the part where people against legalization say that public safety and wellbeing is more important than money and the argument gets shut down. There is one thing that the states with recreational marijuana all have in common; they all had medical marijuana legalized before legalizing recreational use. This is how the state can test the waters for marijuana, the public reaction, the drawbacks, what the overhead costs really are, different methods that could be used in terms of patients picking up the marijuana. And when the fear of impaired driving comes out then advocates bring out a study done by the American Journal of Public Health that claimed there was a decrease in traffic fatality rates.
With what seems to be a movement towards legalization of marijuana across the United States, the best options for states that have not created medical marijuana laws, to do so before attempting to legalize recreational marijuana. It can placate certain fears of the general public, give the legislators a template, and it opens doors to those who really need it sooner rather than later.
--Loren D. Elkins