Pru­dent to pro­ceed with great cau­tion

The Buffalo News - - VIEW­POINTS - James P. Kennedy is U.S. at­tor­ney for the Western Dis­trict of New York.

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?”

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