The most common talking point raised against Proposition 205, the “Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act,” is the need to prevent increased marijuana use among young people.
Legalization opponents are correct about one thing. There is abundant evidence that marijuana can have serious adverse effects in the still- developing adolescent brain. But they ignore the gaping logic hole in their argument that Prop. 205 would promote teen use of marijuana.
Think about it. Adolescents seeking marijuana have as much or more access than adults. The majority report no problem buying marijuana. Unfortunately, they must purchase from black-market drug dealers who are unlicensed, don't test their products for purity or quality and have an incentive to introduce their young customers to cocaine, heroin and other dangerous drugs.
If Prop. 205 passes, marijuana would be sold through licensed, regulated dealers similar to alcohol retailers. Marijuana products would require testing and clear labeling. Selling to minors would be strictly prohibited.
If we're serious about reducing youth marijuana use—and we should be—our present system is obviously not the answer. We need two things: a strong law and the will to enforce it. We have neither.
In the Netherlands, they have both. The Dutch do not hesitate to shut down shops that sell to minors, so it's no wonder that there is less underage use of marijuana there than in “law and order” Arizona.
Legalization opponents seem to think the experience of Colorado, which approved marijuana legalization in 2012, backs up their charges of the plagues which will beset our state if we take a similar route. Like Arizonans today, Coloradans were told workplaces would become more hazardous, that tourism would suffer along with the state's reputation.
Moreover, driving would become more dangerous with more marijuana users on the road. Education would suffer with increased exposure of youth to the now legal substance. Our major daily carried an account of young children reportedly being "rushed" to ERs from overdosing on all the marijuana products lying around.
The verifiable facts tell a far different story. For example, the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center reports that like illegal marijuana, children sometimes ingest legal marijuana left out by adults. In 2014, the Center took 45 calls regarding accidental exposure in children eight or under.
That same year, 2,057 calls were for children's exposure to personal-care products, 1,422 were exposed to household cleaning products and 703 to vitamins. Parents need to keep harmful stuff away from small children. Period.
Meanwhile, employers have continued to control workplace drug policies (as they would under Prop. 205) and no new marijuana related job problems have been reported. The costs of workplace injuries actually decreased and compensation claims have been stable.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation reports a slight decrease in overall crime in 2014, although that may not be directly linked to marijuana legalization. Marijuana-related DUI arrests actually declined in 2015.
The predicted economic devastation never hit. In fact, Colorado had the fastest growing economy in the nation in 2014, number three in 2015. Colorado tourism has broken new records every year since legalization, Colorado saw nation-leading home price increases in 2014 and in 2016, U.S. News & World Report named Denver the number one best place to live in the U.S., Colorado Springs number five.
And the teens? Marijuana use among minors is below the national average and stable. High school graduation rates are up. As Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, the Colorado House speaker and an admitted legalization skeptic, summarized it, “the sky didn't fall. Everything seems to be working pretty well.”
Back in Arizona, we spend $85 million every year arresting and incarcerating 15,000 marijuana law violators. This prohibition hasn't worked, never has, never will.
Our efforts produce not reduced drug usage, but thousands of ruined lives for using a substance harmless to others. Millions of dollars go to support violent, criminal drug cartels, dollars that are much needed in Arizona.
Objectively, marijuana is safer and causes less problems than alcohol. There's no reason government should be making this personal decision for its citizens if we really are the Land of the Free.
–East Valley resident Tom Patterson is a retired physician and former state senator. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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