Thursday, April 17, 2014

DOES DECREASE IN CRIME MEAN LEGALIZATION IS RIGHT?

A recent, first quarter 2014 report based on data from the Denver Police Department shows a decrease in violent and property crime rates, just three months after legalizing the sale of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use on January 1st.

This piece of information has pro-legalization groups clamoring. Added tax revenue for the state. Less harm and dependence than alcohol. Less crime... wait, less crime? In that case, why not legalize it everywhere?

Perhaps we're a little blinded by all of the green smoke. Legalization advocates point to Colorado's $2 million in tax revenue in the first month of legal recreational pot sales. They claim that marijuana isn't addictive. And so far, warnings of increased violent and property crimes have been unfounded.

So are they right? Should the country head towards legalization of marijuana and reap the fruits of a new sellable drug?

Although some news headlines depict a smooth and harmless transition for marijuana into legal sales, there are negative effects to consider. It's way too early to call this a success. It's too early to call this a victory for the pro-legalization groups.

What's not making the headlines are the multimillion-dollar private investing groups which are emerging, poised to become, “Big Marijuana.” Many fail to acknowledge its potential effect on America's youth - surely our teens will be bombarded with promotional messages from a new marijuana industry seeking lifelong customers. And that's only what is within the law for those to capitalize on the legalization of the drug.

According to a recent article in the Washington Times, "a popular website is boldly discussing safe routes for smugglers to bring marijuana into neighboring states; and a marijuana-store owner proudly proclaimed that Colorado would soon be the destination of choice for 18- to 21-year-olds, even though for them marijuana is still supposed to be illegal."

Do we really want our country to head down this path? Afterall, heavy marijuana use has been significantly linked to an 8-point reduction in IQ and is strongly connected to mental illness. Is this how we want to foster our youth - to cultivate a nation of unmotivated, less intelligent individuals?

Surely criminal organizations will adapt to the market. Those outside the legal age limit to buy will be the target of "black market" dealers. And what about alternative, illegal ways to make up for their lost sales? This opens the doors for the illegal sales of other drugs, or worse - the profiting of other sources, such as human trafficking and prostitution.

Haven't we learned from history? The costs outweigh the benefits. The $2 million in tax revenue realized in the first month is a pittance compared to the state's overall budget and we know social costs for the state ensuing from increased drug use will greatly outweigh this. Tobacco and alcohol cost society roughly $10 for every $1 gained in taxes.

And let's examine the validity of the "non-addictive argument."

The American Medical Association (AMA) has come out strongly against the legal sales of marijuana, citing public health concerns. In fact, the AMA’s opinion is consistent with most major medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Society of Addiction Medicine. Because today’s marijuana is at least five to six times stronger than the marijuana smoked by most of today’s parents, we are often shocked to hear that, according to the National Institutes of Health, one in six 16-year-olds who try marijuana will become addicted. (Washington Times)

Reports of increased tax revenue and decrease in crime offer the false promise of positive benefits from the legalization of marijuana. And while legalization advocates will accuse their skeptics as being right-winged proponents of "reefer-madness" - type propaganda, perhaps they should open their eyes and look beyond the results of a few months of legalization.

It is wise to be skeptical. Saying with confidence, the legalization of marijuana is a good thing for society is an extraordinary claim, and as Carl Sagan once said, "Extraordinary claims, require extraordinary evidence."

Evidence from more than one quarter of one year. For now, let's be careful ... and skeptical.

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