Before you read the article, make sure to check out the following op-ed – Sen. Mike Regan: Legalization of adult-use marijuana is inevitable
It’s disappointing to see that my state senator, Mike Regan (R-Cumberland), is now the lead sponsor of a bill to legalize and commercialize the sale of marijuana for recreational use: a drug proven to be addictive and dangerous.
Regan’s announcement of his changed position used flawed reasoning that should concern not only his constituents but families throughout Pennsylvania.
99% THC: Higher Potency, Greater Harm
Sen. Regan claims we must legalize and commercialize marijuana to have “access to a safe and trusted product.” But are products with 99% THC (the psychoactive compound that produces the high) safe? Marijuana (dry flower) can contain up to around 20% THC, but manufacturers are creating unnatural, dangerous, and highly potent products in a variety of forms like concentrates containing up to 99% THC that would become commercialized for recreational sale if state lawmakers experiment with full legalization.
In Colorado, state lawmakers realized they went too far with their full marijuana legalization that permitted unlimited potency. This led to the overwhelmingly bipartisan passage of a bill this year that recognized the harms from products using high amounts of THC. This new law has various provisions, including restrictions on high-potency products for young individuals and funding research on high-potency THC’s impact on the developing brain.
“Today’s high-potency marijuana causes higher rates of suicide and mental illness when used recreationally and illegally under 21 years old,” said Laura Stack, whose son took his own life in 2019 after becoming psychotic due to addiction to highly concentrated marijuana. She stood at the Colorado bill signing last June.
‘Today’s high-potency marijuana causes higher rates of suicide and mental illness when used recreationally and illegally under 21 years old.’
Kate Appleman, Senior Clinical Director of Men’s Treatment Services at Caron Treatment Center in Berks County, Pennsylvania., sees firsthand patients on a regular basis that have a marijuana-use disorder. She says, “Potency represents a sea change in how ‘safe’ marijuana is to use. As a result of the increase in potency of marijuana, we’re seeing a lot more mental health issues surfacing.”
Every legalization bill proposed to date in Pennsylvania has lacked any limits on marijuana potency. It fits the mold of pro-pot politicians like Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) who claim marijuana is “as close to harmless as it gets.” Flippant statements like that ignore the numerous studies showing personal harm from marijuana use and the societal problems it has caused.
Law Enforcement, Health Organizations Recognize the Harms
These real harms are exactly why so many organizations and associations are opposed to its commercialized sale, including law enforcement. “Marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania will pose significant challenges for law enforcement resulting from the unanticipated consequences it has on crime and public safety,” says Scott Bohn for the PA Chiefs of Police Association.
“Recreational marijuana is not safe or harmless,” states the PA District Attorneys Association. “Lawmakers need to pause for a deeper understanding because lives are at stake,” adds Caron Treatment Centers.
National health organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the American Automotive Association (AAA) all oppose the full legalization of marijuana. They cite a wide array of reasons to oppose marijuana, and chief among them is the harm to children.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the gold standard of youth use data, found in 2020 double-digit increases in marijuana use amongst 12-17-year-olds in several legal states – California, Nevada, and Oregon – since 2017. This is no surprise considering how aggressively the marijuana industry targets children through its colorful, youth-oriented marketing appeals and products.
“Legalization would create an industry to commercialize and market marijuana, which would be harmful for children,” says the AAP.
Black Markets Continue to Thrive
Incredibly, Sen. Regan makes an absurd claim that either Pennsylvanians are for the full legalization of marijuana for recreational use or for the illegal cartels “who will cut their heads off.”
This is not to say such cartel violence does not occur, but for Sen. Regan to equate keeping Pennsylvania out of the state-sponsored sale of high-potency marijuana products for recreational use with supporting gruesome cartel violence is simply shameful.
It’s false to believe cartels and the black market will vanish after a move to full legalization. We’ve seen the opposite occur in states experimenting with full legalization. Here’s a headline in the Chicago Sun Times back in June: “Billions in black-market weed still selling in Illinois 18 months after marijuana legalized.” Experts estimate the illicit pot trade in Illinois – the work of the cartels – is now over $4 billion.
It’s false to believe cartels and the black market will vanish after a move to full legalization. We’ve seen the opposite occur in states experimenting with full legalization.
What about a more “mature” market like Colorado, which moved to fully legalize weed in 2012. Here’s a Denver Post headline from this year: “Black market marijuana grows are popping up faster than law enforcement can take them down.” U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn, after an illegal marijuana bust in 2019, stated, “Colorado has become the epicenter of black market marijuana in the United States.”
The reality is the black market doesn’t go away by simply passing a law to allow the state to legalize marijuana’s commercial sale for recreational use.
In 2018, former auditor general Eugene DePasquale was the first to promise for Pennsylvania a specific revenue projection – $581 million annually – if we were to legalize and commercialize the sale of marijuana for recreational use. That loosely calculated figure relied on a 35% sales tax, one of the highest marijuana sales tax in the nation – and that wasn’t including any additional local taxes added on.
Sen. Regan chose to announce his forthcoming bill by claiming “independent estimates have forecasted that Pennsylvania could receive $1 billion annually in the form of tax revenue through the legalization of adult-use marijuana. It is important that we use these dollars wisely.” Double what DePasquale recently estimated with his high 35% sales tax? Even pro-pot politicians point to revenue projections much lower than this with marijuana legalization bills.
And mind you, he’s not saying that overall sales would be that high, just tax revenue, which would be a mere fraction of the projected total sales, a projection likely to be more than any other state.
The bottom line is whatever the made-up number for projected revenue is, it would be wise of our politicians to calculate the many costs associated with any highly inflated revenue promises. To note, no state has ever met its first-year “revenue” numbers with legalizing marijuana. As the former Colorado pot czar Andrew Freedman said, “You do not legalize for taxation. It’s a myth.”
It Is Not Inevitable
Sen. Regan claims full legalization of marijuana is “inevitable” – which sounds more like a contract lobbyist from the marijuana industry than a state legislator. This claim is perhaps the worst cop-out a legislator can make. Winter is inevitable. Death is inevitable. Legalizing a dangerous and addictive drug like marijuana for recreational use? It’s not inevitable since it depends on our elected state lawmakers choosing whether or not to pass a bill.
And if our elected state lawmakers are truly concerned for the families in their districts, they should reject anyone’s claims of inevitability and instead, actively resist ushering in public policies with such potential harm to Pennsylvania families.