In a move that would have made national headlines just 10 years ago, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo made the state’s intentions to legalize recreational marijuana clear with all the fanfare of a low-priority bullet note amidst a much more complicated picture outlining her $9.9 billion budget.
In fact, none of the more than a dozen reporters gathered for the release of some top line details regarding that budget didn’t ask a single question about the legalization efforts being made official – nor did they ask about the efficacy of such a move being a $28.4 million budgetary hole filler throughout the next two fiscal years.
It is no secret that recreational marijuana and medical marijuana sales can amount to insane dollar amounts for states. California has pulled in over $2.75 billion in medical and legal marijuana sales since legalizing on January 1, 2018. Colorado has raked in over $1.5 billion since legalizing recreational in 2012 and even little Washington, which legalized the same year as Colorado (the first two states to do so), has hit the billion mark in legal and medical sales.
However, as any of the states which have legalized recreational marijuana could have told our politicians, it never seems to go as smoothly as you may hope. Our northerly neighbor Massachusetts legalized in November of 2016, and didn’t see a single dollar in recreational marijuana revenue until November of 2018. To say that we will go from absolutely no law on recreational marijuana, to collecting $21.9 million in tax revenue by Fiscal 2021 is, to be gentle, ambitious.
The lack of a formal announcement regarding legalization is understandable, though. Many in the state – primarily the law enforcement officers in state police and local municipalities who reported being completely caught off guard by the sudden and full-steam-ahead decision – are still wary of marijuana’s place in society today, and are concerned about how this may impact public safety in the state.
We must emphasize as well, though, that the truth regarding the dangers of marijuana has been misrepresented for a long time – since the goofy “Reefer Madness” type propaganda films of the 1930s that sought to project a clear, though wildly inaccurate, view that marijuana would turn even the straightest and most well-adapted kids into Satan worshipers and school-skipping miscreants.
Today, any researcher with a shred of integrity will admit that marijuana does not belong anywhere near other drugs in terms of danger posed to the user. We have even seen studies conclude that states with legalized medical marijuana have reduced opioid overdoses by as much as 33 percent; an amazing prospect. However, this does not mean that marijuana is safe for children to use, and it does not mean that those under the influence of marijuana can safely operate a motor vehicle. It does not mean that marijuana, like any other drug, cannot be abused or misused.
What it does mean is that our societal view of marijuana must transform to align with reality. We allow people to smoke cigarettes despite knowing for decades now that it will lead to various cancers, and we allow people to consume alcohol regardless of the wealth of information we possess about the damaging effects – to the consumer and those around them – of alcoholism, and knowing that a certain number of people will make a horrible decision to drive while impaired.
People concerned about recreational marijuana are concerned about enforcement of laws like driving under the influence. We would say to this concern that people driving under the influence of marijuana are very likely to be displaying symptoms if they are so high that they can’t safely operate a vehicle. We don’t buy the reasoning that it would be hard to detect for any law enforcement officer trained in recognizing suspicious behavior.
All this means is that we have to start having serious dialogues about how to best enforce this new development to our reality. States that legalized recreational marijuana have seen a jump of between 5-6 percent in vehicular accidents, so this is an issue that should absolutely be taken into consideration.
We must be able to have adult conversation about marijuana use, the same way we have conversations about the opioid epidemic. We must be able to accept that some people will not be able to responsibly use any substance – even if it grows naturally and isn’t physically addicting in the same way that pain pills are – and account for the mistakes such people may make.
The problems associated with recreational marijuana are no different than the widespread problems we see with other legalized drugs like alcohol or prescription pills. However, the existence of problems doesn’t mean solutions are impossible to find.