2018 Bills We Support
It’s high time Hawaiʻi legalized adult-use recreational cannabis…
Over the past 40 years since Ronald Reagan declared the “War on Drugs,” the United States has fought a losing campaign to end domestic drug use that has cost one trillion dollars, resulted in over 40 million arrests, consumed law enforcement resources, been a key contributor to jaw-dropping rates of incarceration, damaged countless lives, and had a disproportionately devastating impact on communities of color. The misguided War on Drugs has resulted in dramatic increases in the length of prison sentences, a 53 percent increase in drug arrests, a 188 percent increase in the number of people arrested for marijuana offenses, and a 52 percent increase in the number of people in state prisons for drug offenses, between 1990 and 2010.
Indeed, the United States now has an unprecedented and unparalleled incarceration rate: while it accounts for 5 percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of the world’s prison population. While costing billions of dollars, the War on Drugs has also degraded the nation’s social and public health while failing to have any marked effect on the use or availability of drugs. Indeed, the United States is the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs.
In place of marijuana criminalization, and taking a cue from the failure of alcohol prohibition, states should legalize marijuana, by licensing and regulating marijuana production, distribution, and possession for persons 21 or older. Legalization would, first and foremost, eliminate the unfair race- and community-targeted enforcement of marijuana criminal laws; help reduce overincarceration in our jails and prisons; curtail infringement upon constitutional rights, most notably as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment’s proscription of unreasonable searches and seizures; and allow law enforcement to focus on serious crime.
Furthermore, at a time when states are facing budget shortfalls, legalizing marijuana makes fiscal sense. The licensing and taxation of marijuana will save states millions of dollars currently spent on enforcement of marijuana criminal laws. It will, in turn, raise millions more in revenue to reinvest in public schools and substance abuse prevention, as well as general funds and local budgets, research, and public health, to help build stronger, safer communities.
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Prohibition has completely failed to reduce marijuana use. Despite the fact that police departments have made aggressive enforcement of marijuana laws an increasing priority and states have spent billions of dollars on such enforcement, it has failed to diminish marijuana’s use or availability. In 2002, there were 14.5 million people aged 12 or older (6.2 percent of the total population) who used marijuana in a given month; by 2011, that number had increased to 18.1 million (7 percent of the total population). The White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy found that marijuana prices dropped and stabilized after the early 1990s, and several surveys show marijuana use rose and stabilized among youth in the same time period.
Prohibition has resulted in mass incarceration and over-policing. More than 20,000 people were incarcerated for marijuana possession in 2010. Between 2001 and 2010, there were 8,244,943 marijuana arrests, of which 88 percent, were for possession. In 2010 alone, there were 889,133 marijuana arrests—300,000 more than arrests for all violent crimes combined—or one bust every 37 seconds. Marijuana arrests have increased between 2001 and 2010 and now account for 52 percent of all drug arrests in the United States.
Prohibition exacerbates institutional racism within the prison system. On average, a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates—a disparity that increased 32.7 percent between 2001 and 2010. Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in every part of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small Black populations. These numbers are similarly reflected in Hawaiʻi for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders when compared to other ethnic groups. Legalization is the smartest and surest way to end targeted enforcement of marijuana laws in communities of color.
Marijuana has legitimate medicinal value. Studies are starting to show marijuana’s potential in shrinking aggressive cancerous brain tumors. Furthermore, a recent American study found that treating epilepsy and other seizure disorders with CBD reduced seizures by 54 percent. Use of THC reduced spasticity in sufferers of multiple sclerosis by 30 percent. Cannabis may also reduce depression and relieve anxiety.
Youth marijuana use rates have remained stable. Since adult-use recreational cannabis was legalized in Colorado, many feared that it would lead to increased consumption among youth. In fact, legalization has had the exact opposite effect: due to education and regulations restricting use to adults, the percentage of teenagers in Colorado using cannabis has been steadily dropping from 22 percent to 20 percent between 2011 and 2013, and remains below the national average of 23.4 percent. Teen levels are holding steady nationally as well.
Legalization has not made our roads less safe. The total number of arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs has declined in Colorado and Washington, the first two states to regulate marijuana for adult use. There is no clear correlation between marijuana legalization and crash rates. The crash rates in both states are statistically similar to comparable states without legal marijuana.
Legalization has not resulted in a public health crisis. Calls to poison control centers and visits to emergency departments for marijuana exposure remain relatively uncommon. In Oregon, less than 1 percent of calls to the state’s poison centers in 2016 were related to marijuana exposure. In Colorado, a mere 0.04 percent of the state’s 2.3 million emergency department visits in 2014 were for marijuana exposure.
Marijuana legalization is linked to lower rates of opioid related harm. Early studies have revealed a correlation between states with access to medical and adult-use recreational marijuana and lower rates of opioid overdose mortality (M.D. Livingston et al., “Recreational cannabis legalization and opioid-related deaths in Colorado, 2000-2015,” American Journal of Public Health, 107, No. 11, November 2017, p. 1827-1829). This analysis of opioid overdose deaths in Colorado found that, after marijuana was legalized for adult use, there was a reduction of 0.7 deaths per month in the state and that the decades-long upward trend of overdoses began to decline after 2014, the first year of marijuana retail sales in the state. In states with legal access to marijuana, overdose death rates are almost 25 percent lower than in states with no legal access, and the reductions in overdose death rates have strengthened over time (M.A. Bachhuber et al., “Medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in the United States, 1999-2010,” JAMA Internal Medicine, 174, 10, 2014, p. 1668-1673). Legal access to marijuana has been associated with a 23 percent reduction in opioid dependence or abuse-related hospitalizations and 15 percent fewer opioid treatment admissions.
Legalization will save states hundreds of millions of dollars. Enforcing cannabis possession laws costs the U.S. $3.6 billion annually. Arrests for marijuana in all legal marijuana states and Washington, D.C. have plummeted. The reduction in arrests has resulted in substantial savings, estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars, for law enforcement and the judiciary. It is yet unknown how much reductions in opioid use will save states in long-term medical costs.
Legalization will generate hundreds of millions more in new revenue. Marijuana sales in Washington generated $315 million in tax revenues in the 2016-17 fiscal year, and $70 million in Oregon, more than double the predicted revenue. Since sales began in Colorado in 2014, the state has collected almost $600 million in revenue. A 2010 paper from the libertarian Cato Institute found that universally legalizing marijuana would net all levels of the government $17.4 billion annually—half of that would come from reduced spending and costs (particularly for drug enforcement), and the rest would come from taxing marijuana like alcohol and tobacco, and from new economic activity.
Revenue from regulating cannabis sales has been put to immense social good. Colorado distributed $230 million to the Colorado Department of Education between 2015 and 2017 to fund school construction, early literacy, bullying prevention, and behavioral health. Oregon allocates 40 percent of marijuana tax revenue to its state school fund, depositing $34 million into the fund so far. The state also distributes 20 percent to alcohol and drug treatment. Nevada’s 15 percent wholesale tax is projected to bring in $56 million over the next two years to fund state schools. Washington dedicates 25 percent to substance use disorder treatment, education and prevention. The state also distributes 55 percent of its marijuana tax revenues to fund basic health plans. Alaska will collect an estimated $12 million annually, which will fund drug treatment and community residential centers. Massachusetts and California, by statute (M.G.L.A. 94G § 14(b)(v); Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 34019(d)), will invest a share of their marijuana tax revenues in the communities most adversely impacted by drug arrests and incarceration, particularly low-income communities of color, to help repair the harms of unequal drug law enforcement.
A legal cannabis industry would create thousands of new jobs. Preliminary estimates suggest that the legal marijuana industry already employs between 165,000 to 230,000 full- and part-time workers across the country. Colorado has created 10,000 new jobs in the legal cannabis industry since 2014, boosting the economy and contributing to a lowering of the unemployment rate to just 6 percent, making it one of the lowest in the nation.
A legal cannabis industry would undercut the black market. Mexican cartels were once the top suppliers of cannabis to the United States but, since legalization has swept across four states and Washington, D.C., the amount seized by the U.S. Border Patrol has dropped 24 percent in the past year, and the price of Mexican-grown cannabis has dropped from $90 down to $30 per kilogram, dramatically reducing the profitability of illegal activity. Legalization brings proper regulation and infrastructure, and ushers in potency testing, product variety, warning labels, and overall peace of mind for the consumer.
Committee: Social Justice
High Time: 11 reasons for Hawai‘i to support legalization of adult-use recreational marijuana