Voters in seven states — including California — one U.S. territory, and at least 17 cities and counties across the nation will face a marijuana initiative when they go to the polls in November. For some, the question is easy: They’re either for some level of legalizing marijuana or against it.
But for others, the issue is not so cut and dried. Decriminalizing marijuana can be good for the country — and it can be potentially dangerous.
I’m a part of the industry, but that doesn’t mean I’m in favor of every measure to legalize pot. We need to proceed with care and thoughtful consideration of possible consequences, intended and unintended, of the decisions we make. We have the opportunity to fix some problems through decriminalization, but we don’t want to end up with even bigger problems down the road.
The November initiatives range from legalizing recreational marijuana sales and use for adults in Oregon and Alaska to permitting it for medical purposes in Florida and Guam, to decriminalizing possession of small amounts in cities and counties in Maine, Michigan, and New Mexico. Californians will decide whether to downgrade possession to a misdemeanor.
Because we now have two states with sales and use of recreational marijuana, and medical marijuana in 23 other states, we can start looking at what works and what doesn’t. As a society, we’ll be able to make better informed decisions going forward.
There are three considerations for voters pondering ballot decisions in November – and those who will inevitably face those questions in the future:
—The crime rate is down and tax revenues are up in Colorado (Washington’s cannabis stores have been open only since July, but Colorado’s have been in business since January so provide an early glimpse of trends).
In the first six months of sales, and 18 months of decriminalization, overall crime rates in Denver dropped 10 percent and violent crimes were down more than 5 percent.
Marijuana sales generated $10.8 million in revenue in the first four months – 50 percent more than anticipated. Part of that money is earmarked for schools.
—Examine how medical marijuana laws are written.
Some in Massachusetts, which passed its medical marijuana law, are now concerned the bill’s writers allowed for dangerously high possession limits. The state’s limits are the third highest in the country at 10 ounces every 60 days.
Growers are always breeding for greater potency, so smaller amounts of marijuana are required. The worry in Massachusetts is, what will happen to the leftovers? Will so much availability mean it will be more easily for teenagers to get?”
That’s a concern because numerous studies show marijuana can cause structural changes in teens’ brains, resulting in cognitive and mental health problems. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says teens are more likely to become addicted to marijuana than people who begin using as adults — one in six versus less than one in 10 for older users.
—Decriminalizing marijuana will mean fewer criminals — and the associated costs.
Advocates for legalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana point to the unintended consequences of felony convictions, including economic hardship for the families of breadwinners who go to prison; prison crowding; the cost to society of law enforcement and punitive measures.
Colorado is expected to save $12 million to $40 million a year by reducing penalties. That state averaged more than 10,000 arrests and citations every year for possession of amounts that are now legal there.
For voters faced with choices in November regarding marijuana laws, it’s important to read the bill’s wording and listen to state and local discussions pro and con.
Sometimes the concept is good but the law is not well written. If that’s the case, it may be wiser to say no this time around and hope for a better-crafted bill in the future. Because it will come up again!
Steve Janjic is a Wall Street commodities expert and CEO of Amercanex (www.amercanex.com), an electronic marketplace exchange for the cannabis industry.