State Senator Dan Laughlin (R., Erie) recently stated he’s “not a big fan of marijuana.” With today’s pot up to fifty times stronger than Woodstock Weed, he has plenty of reason to be skeptical of the drug.
Legalizing recreational marijuana in our state would introduce an industry, much like its Big Tobacco founders, that profits off of highly-potent products marketed to young people with fruity flavors and celebrity endorsements plastered on social media.
Marijuana use poses significant health risks. The National Academies of Sciences released a comprehensive report on over 10,000 peer-reviewed studies focused on the health effects of marijuana use; among the conclusions of the data were respiratory problems, mental health issues, increased risk of car accidents, memory loss, and low birth weight.
There is also much we still don’t know about the health impact of today’s marijuana. Over the decades, the amount of THC — the psychoactive compound in cannabis — has soared. Combine this with the growing variety of devices it can now be administered with, and it’s become a challenge for scientists to understand its effects.
What scientists do know and are quickly finding more about is the harmful impacts marijuana use has on young people. Replicated studies show how the earlier you use marijuana, the worse your outcomes. We are seeing more teens vaping and using marijuana edibles (candies, chocolates) and concentrates in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. There’s even growing evidence that shows the dangerous impacts on mental illness and how youth marijuana use is increasingly becoming a factor in cases of youth depression and suicide.
This is why it’s confusing to see Senator Laughlin appear open to support its legalization for Pennsylvania communities, in part because “there’s not a kid or adult in America that couldn’t find a bag of weed.”
Sure, it may be true that if someone really wants marijuana in Pennsylvania, they can probably find it. The same goes for cocaine and heroin. It’s hardly a reason to institute mass commercialization, with more marijuana stores than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined — as has been Colorado’s experience. Legalization means families being inundated with the sale and advertisement of these highly-addictive, highly-potent substances, all with the state’s stamp of approval.
Laughlin’s other consideration of legalization — claiming a boon for revenues — is nothing more than wishful thinking. First-year revenue numbers for marijuana in several states were severely inflated. Colorado received 57 percent of their projected first-year revenues, California saw one-third of theirs, and Alaska only had 18 percent hit the state coffers.
The National Academies of Sciences released a comprehensive report on over 10,000 peer-reviewed studies focused on the health effects of marijuana use; among the conclusions of the data were respiratory problems, mental health issues, increased risk of car accidents, memory loss, and low birth weight.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s claim that our state would pull in $581 million annually if marijuana were to be legalized is often touted by legalization supporters. This figure relies on a 35 percent state tax, among the highest in the nation. (Ironically, DePasquale’s projections used data from a government agency — SAMHSA — that actively warns of today’s marijuana leading to higher rates of dependency and addiction.)
Legalization supporters point out that California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington accounted for a combined $1.5 billion in marijuana tax revenue last year. What they leave out is the fact that these tax revenues barely register above one percent of the overall budget in each state, and collectively they face a $71 billion budget deficit due to COVID-19 over the next three years.
Since marijuana taxes haven’t solved budget issues in these states, there’s no reason to believe it will help much here.
Even leaders in Colorado, a state that PA Lt. Governor John Fetterman says we should emulate, have debunked this narrative. “You do not legalize for taxation. It is a myth,” said Colorado’s former Director of Marijuana Coordination Andrew Freedman. Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper puts it this way, “We get $200 million a year in tax revenue, which, you know, we’re a $30 billion budget, so it’s a drop in the bucket.”
While the legalization of recreational marijuana would only be a “drop in the bucket” in Pennsylvania’s budget deficit, it would increase costs on the government in many other areas, because of the wave of negative effects for its citizens’ health and wellbeing. One would hope our lawmakers don’t employ the same logic as an immature teenager would to rationalize his irresponsible decision: “everyone’s doing it.”
Much has recently been sacrificed to protect the health and safety of Pennsylvania residents during this crisis. Let’s keep our government focused on its key function: protecting all of us. Let’s be responsible and stand up for our young people’s future — and reject calls to legalize marijuana in the Commonwealth.