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Marijuana Industry is a Dangerous, Runaway Train

By Dr. Kevin Sabet

Last month, Nevada ’s new United States Attorney Nicholas Trutanich stated that the state is “not safe with marijuana at every corner” and that “marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and (his) job is to enforce federal law.” At a time when a handful of states are considering following in the footsteps of the small number of states that have taken part in this reckless experiment, it is refreshing to see officials take steps to attempt to reign in the runaway train that is the marijuana industry.

When discussing marijuana, most believe that we are talking about the 5 percent THC ditch weed of Woodstock . Today’s marijuana is of much higher potency. Legalized states now feature kid-friendly, marijuana-infused cookies, candies, sodas, and ice creams that contain up to 99 percent THC. The overwhelmingly majority of scientific data tells us that low potency marijuana can have a host of ill effects on mental health such as loss of IQ points, poor memory, and can even trigger serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia. A recent study found that daily use of high potency pot increases the risk of psychosis five-fold. Knowing this, legalization efforts before the science is clear on marijuana’s health risks is certainly putting the cart before the horse.

Legalization proponents like to claim that the marijuana industry welcomes commonsense regulation. In reality, the industry works around the clock roll back these regulations. In California , the legalization ballot measure included provisions allowing towns to “opt out” by banning stores and growing facilities in neighborhoods. This year, the industry went all-in with an attempt to pass a bill forcing communities that have banned marijuana stores in their neighborhoods to allow for stores, growing facilities, and delivery services. Thankfully, thanks to organized opposition, the bill was pulled from consideration.

And the state of Oregon actively admitted it has failed to regulate its marijuana industry. An audit by the Secretary of State earlier this year found that only three percent of the marijuana stores in the state and only one third of its licensed growers had been inspected. In addition, it found that the state’s industry suffered vast “structural weaknesses” that made it susceptible to black market activity. Finally, the audit stated that “ Oregon ’s marijuana testing program cannot ensure that test results (for determining if pesticides, mold, or heavy metals are present) are reliable and products are safe.”

Laughably, Oregon lawmakers want to deal with the state’s massive overproduction problem by shipping excess marijuana (most likely tainted and not fit for human consumption) to other states. This idea has been thoroughly ridiculed.

Speaking of black markets, legalization proponents will claim until they are blue in the face that legalization and commercialization eliminates the black market. The fact is, legalization has been a boon for criminal gangs and cartels.

Just last summer, a year after legalization took effect in Nevada , law enforcement stated they have seen no reduction in the size and scope of the marijuana black market. Reno Deputy Police Chief Mac Venzon stated that he “expected to see some reduction in the black market and thus far we have not seen that.” Nevada is not alone in this. 70 percent of marijuana sales in Oregon in 2016 took place on the black market and up to five times the amount of the drug sold in the state winds up sold illegally.

Colorado , the poster child for legalization, has become a haven for bad actors. Criminal gangs and foreign cartels are using the legal status of marijuana as a shield and setting up shop in housing developments and on federal lands. The result? In 2017 alone, Colorado law enforcement confiscated 14,692 pounds of marijuana en route to 24 states. This is more than double the 7,116 pounds confiscated in 2016. And just weeks ago, the largest drug bust in Colorado history occurred, with more than 80,000 plants seized as part of a large federal sting.

Nevada has also experienced instances of the corruption that goes hand in hand with the pot industry. The state’s Department of Taxation was recently sued by a group stating that the way in which the state issues licenses is “ripe for corruption.” On top of this, a local marijuana commissioner has been charged with money laundering and another marijuana company was forced to pay $6 million in a settlement after it was accused of taking advantage of an investor.

While Nevada law enforcement report seeing no reduction in the size of the marijuana black market, they are seeing something else: an increase in marijuana-impaired driving. And they are not alone. Drugged driving and marijuana-related driving fatalities have increased in states that have legalized. Nearly one in five daytime drivers in Washington are estimated to be under the influence, up from less than on in ten before legalization. Since legalization, the rate of traffic fatalities involving stoned drivers in some states has doubled.

The superintendent of Douglas County schools stated there has been a significant increase in marijuana use – notably using hard to detect vaping devices and edibles -- among high school students. She noted that there were more instances of marijuana use in the first three months of the 2017-2018 school year than in her entire tenure. Knowing the aforementioned health risks of youth marijuana use, this is incredibly concerning.

In the end, the promises of legalization advocates fall flat. Social equity never appears, arrests continue, black markets thrive, and the only ones profiting are the wealthy investors – like Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol. States would best serve the public interest by slamming the door on Big Marijuana before it ever steps inside.

Dr. Kevin Sabet is a former senior drug policy advisor to the Obama Administration. He now serves as president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a non-partisan non-profit dedicated to opposing marijuana commercialization.