Prudent to proceed with great caution
are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime. Again, how can it be sound public policy to legalize recreational marijuana when the evidence suggests not only that it may lead more people to commit violent crime, it will lead to more people being victimized by violent crime?
Beyond the foregoing, there is no other substantial evidence of marijuana’s health impacts. As to every other potential impact that marijuana has on our health as humans, the study found moderate, limited, insufficient or no evidence. Does it impair academic achievement and educational outcomes? Limited evidence says yes. Does it increase rates of unemployment and/or low income? Limited evidence says yes. Does it impair social functioning or engagement in developmentally appropriate social roles? Again, limited evidence says yes. How can it be sound public policy to legalize recreational marijuana when it very well may make us dumber, poorer, and less social, and when, in the end, we really do not know what it is going to do to people?
Finally, the study found “moderate evidence” of a statistical association between cannabis use and the development of substance dependence and/or substance abuse disorder for substances including other illicit drugs. In 2017, there were 72,000 fatal drug overdoses in America. Even if the “moderate evidence” establishing recreational marijuana’s role as a gateway drug is ignored, how can it be sound public policy to push for the legalization of recreational marijuana, when the very most that can be said is that we have no idea whether legalization will lead to an increase or a decrease in the number of overdose deaths?
Thriving black market
As with health costs and benefits, when it comes to social costs and benefits, there is again a dearth of solid evidence. Further, the overwhelming evidence from states, such as Oregon and Colorado, which have legalized recreational marijuana, demonstrates that legalization does not eliminate the illicit black market for marijuana. To the contrary, with legalization comes overproduction. My colleague Billy Williams, the United States Attorney for the District in Oregon and chairman of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee’s Marijuana Working Group, estimates that Oregon’s annual marijuana production capacity is up to 10 times its annual marijuana consumption demand. That overproduction of marijuana leads to a glut of marijuana on the black-market, where illicit dealers – free from state regulation, taxes, cultivation, and supply chain logistics inherent in the legal manufacture of marijuana – are able to sell marijuana much more cheaply that those who are regulated. Demand for their illicit marijuana persists because most users are not inclined to pay premium prices just to avoid committing a very low level transgression that police are increasingly being asked to ignore. As with all drug dealing, with increased competition between illicit dealers comes increased violence.
While there is, as I noted previously, no solid evidence to show whether marijuana legalization increases violent crime rates, one unassailable fact is that none of the states that have legalized marijuana have experienced a net reduction in violent crime. Moreover, during my tenure as a federal prosecutor here in Western New York, we have prosecuted numerous gang members for murders and acts of violence tied directly to the marijuana trade and turf wars between gangs competing for their market share of the illicit marijuana business. How can it be sound public policy to legalize recreational marijuana when we know not only that it has not led to a reduction in violent crime in any jurisdiction in which it has been tried but also that it will not end the illegal distribution of marijuana by organizations who have a demonstrated history of violence in our community?
Marijuana and money
In the end, I see this Green Rush as pioneered by two factions in pursuit of two very different types of green. For one, their motive is marijuana. For the other, their motive is money. As U.S. Attorney, I can offer overwhelming evidence to demonstrate that people motivated exclusively by either of those things – drugs or money – invariably fail to act in anyone’s best interest but their own, and as such, their actions are, by definition, antithetical to the public interest.
Finally, I would be remiss in my role as U.S. Attorney if I did not remind proponents of the Green Rush in New York of two important and unassailable provisions of current federal law. First, it remains a federal crime to possess, distribute or manufacture marijuana. Second, any property used to facilitate the manufacture or distribution of marijuana remains subject to federal seizure or forfeiture, as does any property that directly or indirectly constitutes proceeds derived from the manufacture or sale of marijuana.
With both the dearth of evidence and the current state of federal law providing appropriate cautionary markers along the way, I think we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to slow down and to proceed with great caution. Otherwise, we may well find ourselves at a place at which the only question left to ask is – how in the world did we end up here?”