By Scott Chipman
California faces several huge and growing problems. Our state is currently identified as the 37th worst for raising a child and 42nd in educational performance. California has 25 percent of the country's homeless (and climbing) with only 13 percent of the U.S. population. And, more than 20 percent of California citizens live below the poverty level. And U.S. life expectancy is declining because of drug and alcohol abuse. None of these problems will be improved with more marijuana use. In fact, observations of current legal pot states indicate that each of these problems will become worse.
So what can we expect to see as the marijuana industry continues to ramp up? An even greater normalization of pot and a gradual increase in use. This will increase impaired driving crashes (deaths related to marijuana impaired driving crashes doubled in Washington State in a year after legalization), more teens and young adult addicts, more psychotic breaks and violence related to marijuana and even more arrests.
Arrests for marijuana have actually increased in Colorado because it is a lawless industry not willing to stay within the boundaries of regulation and because a larger market emboldens even greater illegal activities.
We will also see an increase in teen and young adult use whose brains are not fully developed until about age 25. This will have multiple and long lasting negative impacts. Teens watch what we adults do much more than listen to what we say they should (or shouldn't) do. And, what we have been saying about marijuana has not been anything that would discourage their use. And what they have seen us do is "medicalize" pot by popular vote (This is the first time in history a medicine was "approved" via popular vote or legislative action). Next, we promoted and commercialized an industry that markets a harmful and addictive substance.
We have also given this industry special "carve outs" not known in any other industry. Recent pot product surveys and testing by a UC Davis chemistry professor and Steep Hill Labs, Inc. found that 93 percent of pot from "dispensaries" in four southern California counties tested positive for pesticides. The state is giving the industry six months to sell off contaminated inventory before getting "serious" about purity requirements! What other industry -- agricultural, candy, cosmetic, et al. -- would be given six months of sales of poisonous products prior to making their products safe? None, of course!
This is just one example of how California has failed to properly regulate this lawless industry. The state has no proactive marijuana investigation/enforcement agency. All investigations and enforcement of violations will be "complaint driven". Complaints come after the harms and impacts have occurred and most Californians don't know what the law really is and are not inclined to become investigators against pot drug dealers and be subject to intimidation and threats. Don't expect any real enforcement or investigation.
Many voters thought that tax revenues would be useful, helping to mitigate some of the harms. But the cost of enforcement and bureaucracy will eat heavily into the tax revenues. And, the language in Prop. 64 allows taxes to be reduced or eliminated if it is shown that the "regulated" industry can't compete with the black market. The black market is alive and well in Colorado with over 40% of pot being sold outside of the tax structure. Last year Colorado's state Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman, told the media: "The criminals are still selling on the black market. ... We have plenty of cartel activity in Colorado (and) plenty of illegal activity that has not decreased at all." The black market in California is much older, bigger and more powerful than in Colorado and extralegal operators will not come out to say, "Here I am, tax me."
We would do well to remember that Prop 64 legalization of marijuana was not a grass roots movement. It would have fallen to wayside with the other 10 proposed pot legalization initiatives if not for the infusion of tens of millions of dollars by George Soros and Sean Parker. Money from the pot industry and these 2 billionaires provided between $7 and $10 for each signature to qualify the measure for the ballot. Most Prop 64 voters thought they were keeping people from being arrested when approving legalization. The reality is they were endorsing a huge industry that relies on addiction for its profits.
Tax revenues will never make up for the cost of addiction, therapy, car crashes and resultant injuries, psychotic breaks, drop outs, lost productivity, babies and children impacted by using and addicted parents, etc. The costs will be more than 10 times the tax revenue.
The best we can hope for -- and what we should be demanding -- is federal enforcement against commercial pot operations.
A few targeted enforcements, some letters to landlords from US attorneys, and arrests and jail time for lawbreaking pot dealers will keep the industry in check.
Scott Chipman is Southern California chair of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana (CALMca.org) and co-founder of San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods.