Na­tion­wide le­gal­iza­tion of pot would be mis­take

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - OPINION - BY JEFF HUNT

Re­cently, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in­tro­duced the Mar­i­juana Jus­tice Act in an ef­fort to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana across the na­tion and pe­nal­ize lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties that want noth­ing to do with this dan­ger­ous drug. This is the fur­thest-reach­ing mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion ef­fort to date and marks another sad mo­ment in our na­tion’s embrace of a drug that will have gen­er­a­tional con­se­quences.

Our coun­try is fac­ing a drug epi­demic. Le­gal­iz­ing recre­ational mar­i­juana will do noth­ing that Booker ex­pects. We heard many of these same prom­ises in 2012 when Colorado le­gal­ized recre­ational mar­i­juana.

In the years since, Colorado has seen an in­crease in mar­i­juana-re­lated traf­fic deaths, poi­son con­trol calls and emer­gency room visits. The mar­i­juana black mar­ket has in­creased in Colorado, not de­creased. And, mul­ti­ple drug en­force­ment of­fi­cials have been in­dicted for mar­i­juana-re­lated crimes.

In 2012, we were promised funds from mar­i­juana taxes would ben­e­fit our com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­larly schools. Harry Bull, su­per­in­ten­dent of Cherry Creek Schools, one of the largest school dis­tricts in the state, said, “So far, the only thing that the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana has brought to our schools has been mar­i­juana.”

In fis­cal year 2016, mar­i­juana tax rev­enue re­sulted in $156,701,018. The to­tal tax rev­enue for Colorado was $13,327,123,798, mak­ing mar­i­juana only 1.18 per­cent of the state’s to­tal tax rev­enue. The cost of mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion in pub­lic aware­ness cam­paigns, law en­force­ment, health care treat­ment, ad­dic­tion re­cov­ery and pre­ven­ta­tive work is an un­known cost to date.

Booker stated his rea­sons for le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana were to re­duce “mar­i­juana ar­rests hap­pen­ing so much in our coun­try, tar­get­ing cer­tain com­mu­ni­ties — poor com­mu­ni­ties, mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties.” Un­for­tu­nately, it’s had the op­po­site ef­fect.

Ac­cord­ing to the Colorado De­part­ment of Pub­lic Safety, mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion ar­rests in Colorado of black and His­panic youth have in­creased 58 per­cent and 29 per­cent re­spec­tively after le­gal­iza­tion. This means black and His­panic youth are be­ing ar­rested more for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion after it be­came le­gal.

Fur­ther­more, a vast ma­jor­ity of Colorado’s mar­i­juana busi­nesses are con­cen­trated in neigh­bor­hoods of color. Lead­ers from these com­mu­ni­ties, many of whom ini­tially voted to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana, often speak out about the neg­a­tive im­pacts of these busi­nesses.

Booker re­leased his bill just a few days after the Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported on a study by the Review of Eco­nomic Stud­ies that found “col­lege stu­dents with ac­cess to recre­ational cannabis on av­er­age earn worse grades and fail classes at a higher rate.” Since le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana, Colorado’s youth mar­i­juana use rate is the high­est in the na­tion, 74 per­cent higher than the na­tional av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to the Rocky Moun­tain High In­ten­sity Drug Traf­fick­ing Area Re­port. This is hav­ing ter­ri­bly neg­a­tive ef­fects on the ed­u­ca­tion of our youth.

If Booker is in­ter­ested in serv­ing poor and mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties, le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana is one of the worst de­ci­sions. There is much work to be done to re­duce in­car­cer­a­tion and re­cidi­vism, but flood­ing com­mu­ni­ties with drugs will do noth­ing but ex­ac­er­bate the prob­lems.

The true im­pact of mar­i­juana on our com­mu­ni­ties is just start­ing to be learned. I en­cour­age Booker to spend time with par­ents, ed­u­ca­tors, law en­force­ment, coun­selors, com­mu­nity lead­ers, pas­tors and leg­is­la­tors be­fore rush­ing to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana na­tion­ally. We’ve seen the ef­fects in our neigh­bor­hoods in Colorado, and this is noth­ing we wish upon the na­tion.

Hunt is vice pres­i­dent of Pub­lic Pol­icy at Colorado Chris­tian University.

Jeff Hunt

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