Legalizing marijuana encourages use of harder drugs and sets back the cause of social justice.
By Patrick Kennedy and Kevin Sabet
Sens. Cory Gardner and Elizabeth Warren have introduced a bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level in the name of “states’ rights.” In reality, it would give birth to Big Tobacco’s successor.
This dangerous proposal would allow the marijuana industry to market high-potency pot candies, gummies and 99% pure extracts (compare that with 5% potent Woodstock weed). With 70% of today’s illicit drug users having started with marijuana, not prescription drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, this is exactly the wrong time to legalize pot.
Public-health data from states that have legalized strongly indicate that it is a failed experiment, resulting in more fatalities from driving while stoned, more emergency-room visits and poison-control calls, and more worker accidents and absenteeism.
The Gardner-Warren bill would enable the rapid expansion of businesses that grow, market and distribute high-potency pot products in kid-friendly forms, like candies, gummies and sodas. Marijuana is not a harmless drug, nor is the pot industry made up of responsible corporate citizens. Researchers in Colorado called 400 marijuana dispensaries, pretending to be 8 weeks pregnant and experiencing nausea. Seventy percent of the stores recommended THC products, ignoring the risks of marijuana use during pregnancy. States that have legalized, like Colorado, California and Oregon, grow many times the amount of marijuana they can consume. The excess ends up shipped all over the country.
Congress should not reward Big Marijuana for following the playbook of Big Tobacco. Rather, lawmakers should take a closer look at the public-health outcomes, especially the effect on young people. In a large survey last year funded by the National Institutes of Health, 1 in 4 12th-graders reported they would try marijuana, or that their use would increase, if the drug was legalized. Already, the prevalence of annual marijuana use among students in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades has risen significantly since last year.
There’s proof, too, that marijuana legalization is no step forward for social justice. Two years after Colorado legalized, the number of Hispanic and African-American minors arrested for marijuana-related offenses rose 29% and 58%, respectively, according to state data; the figure for whites declined 8%. Bringing in more drugs would only hurt minorities further. Big Marijuana routinely targets vulnerable communities as its profit centers. In Denver, there are more pot shops than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined.
At a time when legalizing recreational marijuana remains a contentious issue of debate, federal lawmakers should not be accelerating the proliferation of an industry that routinely targets children and minority communities. We don’t need Wall Street-backed marijuana. Especially not now.
Mr. Kennedy, a former U.S. representative from Rhode Island, is a member of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis and author of “A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.” Mr. Sabet, a former drug-policy adviser to three U.S. presidents, is president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action.