Florida will get high on mar­i­juana at its own risk

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION - Dwhit­[email protected]­lan­dosen­tinel.com

Step aside, Mar­gar­i­taville. Jimmy Buf­fett now wants you to get wasted away again in Mar­i­jua­nav­ille.

He’s en­dorsed Make It Le­gal Florida, a cam­paign to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana in Florida. The goal is to get on the 2020 bal­lot, which means the ini­tia­tive needs 766,200 sig­na­tures by Feb. 1.

It has about 200,000 and has sued for more time, so don’t be sur­prised if a Par­rot­head or pot­head bearing a pe­ti­tion asks for your sig­na­ture in the next few weeks. As much as I love Buf­fett, I won’t sign on the dot­ted line.

Nei­ther should you, though I sense it won’t mat­ter in the long run.

The stigma sur­round­ing pot has gone up in smoke. Polls show about two-thirds of Amer­i­cans sup­port le­gal­iza­tion.

Med­i­cal mar­i­juana — a good thing — is le­gal in 33 states. “Recre­ational” pot is le­gal in 11. To­gether, the in­dus­try is pro­jected to be worth $50 bil­lion by 2026.

Reefer mad­ness crosses cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal lines. Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes plans to in­tro­duce a le­gal­iza­tion bill in the up­com­ing Florida leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Ev­ery Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date ex­cept Joe Bi­den has come out for le­gal­ized pot.

The de­sire to dull the senses is an in­escapable hu­man frailty. Le­gal­iz­ing is a mat­ter of bal­anc­ing that per­sonal free­dom against so­ci­etal harm. Pro­hi­bi­tion proved a bust, so Amer­ica ac­cepted “recre­ational” drink­ing. With it, we now ac­cept 88,000 al­co­hol-re­lated deaths a year and at least $250 bil­lion in an­nual costs.

That’s the price we are will­ing to pay for a good time. Now states are giv­ing the gov­ern­men­tal seal of ap­proval to the next big party. It will de­liver eco­nomic ben­e­fits, a good buzz and free up police re­sources. But there will be costs.

For ev­ery dol­lar Colorado takes in from mar­i­juana, it spends $4.50 in so­ci­etal costs like health care and pro­duc­tiv­ity losses. One rea­son is this to­day’s mar­i­juana crop is three to five times stronger than it was when Buf­fett started the Coral Reefer Band in the early 1970s.

The ad­vent of vaping makes it even more po­tent and po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing. Re­mem­ber last year’s e-cig­a­rette panic? As of mid-De­cem­ber, the mys­te­ri­ous lung ail­ment had ac­counted for 54 deaths and 2,506 ill­nesses. The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Prevention now says the likely cause was il­licit mar­i­juana flu­ids peo­ple were load­ing into their va­por­iz­ers.

Buf­fett, ever the en­tre­pre­neur, has started a line of vaping prod­ucts. Like all such web­sites, you must check a box claim­ing you’re over 21 in or­der to shop. Such flimsy road­blocks have con­trib­uted to the ex­plo­sion of teen vaping. The Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health re­ports 71% of high school se­niors don’t even think mar­i­juana is harm­ful.

Some­body needs to get them a chem­istry book. Reg­u­lar use dam­ages the brain’s hip­pocam­pus, which con­trols learn­ing and mem­ory. The dam­age is worse for de­vel­op­ing brains, and it is long term.

Be­sides in­creased psy­chotic dis­or­ders and risk of opi­oid ad­dic­tion, stud­ies show teen pot smok­ers are more likely to drop out of school and fail to hold full-time jobs.

Mi­nori­ties are dis­pro­por­tion­ately im­pacted by mar­i­juana laws, so le­gal­iz­ing pot has be­come a po­lit­i­cal lit­mus test for racial jus­tice.

Mak­ing pot le­gal has led to a boom in il­le­gal sales in neigh­bor­ing states. Cal­i­for­nia pro­duces 15.5 mil­lion pounds of pot a year. About 85% is ex­ported, mostly to states where pot is il­le­gal. Even in Cal­i­for­nia, there are al­most 3,000 un­li­censed dis­pen­saries.

You could pre­dict Florida would reg­u­late it bet­ter. You could ar­gue mar­i­jua­naas­so­ci­ated prob­lems al­ready ex­ist and le­gal­iz­ing it will make them eas­ier to solve. You could, but stud­ies show over­all use in­creases when the govern­ment says it’s OK. The prob­lems are only go­ing to get worse.

“How do I tell young peo­ple about the dan­gers of drugs if it’s now le­gal?” the Rev. Ho­race Sh­effield said at a 2018 press con­fer­ence.

He was rep­re­sent­ing the Detroit As­so­ci­a­tion of Black Or­ga­ni­za­tions, which was fight­ing a le­gal­iza­tion ini­tia­tive in Michi­gan. Those groups be­lieved the last thing un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties needed was more weed. They lost the bat­tle, and recre­ational mar­i­juana went on sale last month in Michi­gan. The same thing will even­tu­ally hap­pen in Florida.

But if a vol­un­teer comes to you with a pe­ti­tion and well-re­hearsed sales pitch, ask them about the down­side to the com­ing party.

If they say there won’t be a big one, you’ll know they’ve been smoking some­thing.

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