Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), in conjunction with its chapter in Connecticut, released a report on the projected costs to taxpayers of legalizing marijuana in Connecticut. According to SAM, legalization would cost the state $216 million. Based on data drawn from states such as Colorado, where marijuana has largely been legalized, and the Connecticut Office of Fiscal Analysis, SAM challenged assumption that taxed marijuana sales can help resolve the state's fiscal crisis. According to the report, the costs of legalizing marijuana would "exceed, by more than 90 percent, the maximum projected official revenue estimate of $113.6 million for the third year of the proposed legalization program." Social costs, such as addiction, homelessness, and incarceration, would also be borne by taxpayers, according to the group.

Heading up the group is Kevin A. Sabet MD, an academic and psychiatrist who served as an adviser to the Obama administration on drug-related issues. In a news release, Sabet said that he hopes that SAM’s report will cause legislators to consider the implications of legalization. He said, “Everyone likes to talk about the assumed revenue that marijuana legalization would bring to a state, but no one likes to discuss the costs affiliated with such policy measures."

The SAM chapter in Connecticut followed the approval of state legislation in Connecticut in 2012 that legalized medical marijuana. SAM spokesperson Bo Huhn said, according to the release, "Both state and national data demonstrate that our kids have increased access to marijuana as a result of laws allowing legal marijuana in our communities.” Huhn said that recent research on the cognitive, psychological, and other damage that marijuana causes to developing adolescent brains, while adding that taxpayers and businesses in Connecticut will bear a financial burden that will far outweigh any potential revenue to the state.  
 
Yale University Professor Deepak Cyril D' Souza MD stated, "By legalizing cannabis in CT, we will undoubtedly see an increase in adolescent cannabis use with many negative consequences years later. Is this what we want for our children and future adults?" According to SAM, teenaged uses of marijuana are prone to lower IQ, as well as memory and attentional problems that persist even if they stop using cannabis. The organization stated that 12-17 year-olds show  among the highest levels nationally in states that have legalized some form of marijuana.
 
Sabet predicted, "Marijuana legalization will lead to a new version of a Big Tobacco industry dedicated to profits that will increase addiction and undermine our youth and the vulnerable." The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement of 1998, which pooled together lawsuits filed by 46 states against various tobacco companies, called for the defendants to pay out a minimum of $208 billion over the course of 25 years.

Sabet testified before the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus on Wednesday regarding a proposal in that state to legalize marijuana. Sabet said, "Regardless of good intentions, legalization is bad policy. It will increase marijuana use (including among children), make New Jersey roads more dangerous, reduce businesses' productivity, and target communities of color. It will also not help New Jersey's budget due to the costs of implementing the program and dealing with its consequences. And, ironically, it will not reduce black marketeering or criminal activity surrounding the drug."

 


Sabet, in addition to his work with SAM, is an assistant professor of psychiatry and Director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida. He is the author of numerous articles and monographs including the book Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths About Marijuana.

Black market for weed continues despite legalization

Sabet answered a series of questions posed by Spero News about the use of marijuana. When asked why adults should not be allowed to use marijuana legally, he responded that while “Alcohol is in and out of your system within 24 hours, marijuana’s effects last much longer.” He pointed to research that shows that marijuana users “self-report far worse outcomes than alcohol users, including more problems at home, work, or school, and more mental health problems.” He also noted that states that have legalized marijuana “continue to see a thriving black market and increasing rates of youth use of the drug, providing evidence that the theory of “tax and regulate” does not fare well in real life.” 

Saying that it is the job of his organization to give voice to communities opposed to legalization, he wrote that “legalization is not just about ‘getting high.’ By legalizing marijuana, the United State would be ushering in a new, for-profit industry - not different from Big Tobacco”. 

Fast-track FDA approval of medicinal THC

While admitting that there are “components of marijuana that provide therapeutic effects” for Americans who suffer “life-threatening, debilitating chronic illnesses,” he asserted that the smoked form of cannabis “does not meet the standard as safe and effective modern medicine.” He said that smoking the marijuana plant is not an “efficient delivery system” because it is “impossible to measure exact dosage and contains hundreds of additional components that could have adverse or unknown effects.” He said, “Smoking marijuana is much like smoking opium in order to get the effects of morphine, or willow bark for pain relief readily available as aspirin.”

Sabet supports efforts to expand research on medicinal uses of marijuana, “so long as they are studied and approved the same way we do all other medications.” He said that SAM believes that the approval of non-smoked medications from marijuana should be on a “fast-track” for approval by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Lasting effects of teenage use

As to the effects of smoking marijuana, Sabet expressed particular concern for teenage users. “One in every six 16-year olds who try marijuana become addicted to it. Scientists found that using marijuana regularly before the age of 18 resulted in an average IQ of six to eight fewer points at age 38 versus those who did not use the drug prior to 18. Regular marijuana use is associated with lower satisfaction with intimate relationships, work, family, friends, leisure pursuits, and life in general. Marijuana use overtime also makes addiction to other drugs more likely.” 

As to the question of whether marijuana could be legalized for adults but prohibited for minors, Sabet said that his group is opposed to legalization because of “the damaging effects it would have on our communities. The legalization of the drug,” Sabet answered, “would still lead to the creation of a massive for-profit industry akin to Big Tobacco that would place profit over public health. Black markets would still continue to thrive, and the drug would still get into the hands of young people.” 

Impact on communities of color

As to the social effects of marijuana use, Sabet pointed to the impact marijuana has had on minority communities. In an email to Spero News, he wrote, “One of the biggest takeaways from that report is the ways in which legalization has been damaging to minority communities.”

In one of SAM’s impact studies, it was found that common disparities among use and criminal offense rates continue among race, ethnicity, and income levels. “The District of Columbia saw public consumption and distribution arrests nearly triple between the years 2015 and 2016,” noted SAM, “and a disproportionate number of those marijuana-related arrests occur among African-Americans.”

Similarly, SAM claims that Colorado, where marijuana use has been legalized, has seen a “similar trend among its student population with the number of marijuana-related offenses in schools linked to the proportion of youth of color enrolled.” SAM’s impact study noted that “Colorado schools that had 25% or fewer youth of color had 313 marijuana-related suspensions compared to 658 marijuana-related suspensions for schools comprised of populations with 76% or more youth of color.” In Colorado, noted SAM, “marijuana arrests for young African-American and Hispanic youth have increased since legalization,” according to the Colorado Department of Public Safety.”

Yet another cost to the public, noted SAM, is the increasing number of drugged driving and motor vehicle fatalities in states that have legalized recreational marijuana. “The number of drivers in Colorado intoxicated with marijuana and involved in fatal traffic crashes increased 88% from 2013-2015 and marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 66% between the four-year averages before and after legalization.”

Costs are high, revenue is low

As to direct costs to taxpayers, the summary of SAM’s latest report showed that costs to Connecticut, for example, far outweigh potential revenue gains. 

“Initial approximations of these preliminary costs indicate that it is unlikely that revenues from legalization would ever exceed its costs. This report concludes that even a conservative cost estimate limited to only the issues above would cost Connecticut approximately $216 million in 2020, which would be the third year of legalization if the policy was implemented in 2018. (According to data from the Connecticut General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis, the legalization program will only be fully operational in its third year of operation).

“Such costs exceed, by more than 90 percent, the maximum projected official revenue estimate of $113.6 million for the third year of the proposed legalization program. (These costs are almost 300 percent of the minimum revenue estimate of $54.4 million, but to be conservative, this report uses the maximum estimate.

“Further, even without considering such costs, the maximum projected revenue estimate would account for just one-half of one percent of the governor’s proposed FY 2018–19 budget.

“Such a conclusion is also consistent with well-established information about alcohol and tobacco, two legal drugs whose costs to society are at least 10 times the tax revenue their sale generates for the state.”
 

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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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