Regulating Marijuana Works!
Regulating Marijuana Works!
According to the federal government, teen marijuana use has dropped since Colorado began regulating medical marijuana. This is great news, but we want that progress to continue. As the billboard below conveys, we need to regulate marijuana across the board in order to protect teens.
According to the latest report from the federal government, marijuana use by Colorado high school students has dropped since our state and its localities began regulating medical marijuana in 2010. This bucks the national trend of increasing teen marijuana use over the past several years. Nationwide, past-30-day marijuana use among high school students climbed from 20.8 percent in 2009, to 23.1 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, in Colorado, it dropped from 24.8 percent to 22 percent. See graph at right.
It was during this same two-year period that Colorado enacted strict state and local regulations on the sale of marijuana for medical purposes, whereas no such regulations were implemented throughout the rest of the country. This suggests that even the partial regulation of marijuana could decrease its availability and use among teens. Amendment 64 would regulate marijuana sales across the board for all adults 21 and older, further reducing teen use.
Earlier this year, research on the impact of medical marijuana laws on teen use arrived at a similar conclusion. In a press release about the study issued by the University of Colorado Denver, the researchers said there is “no statistical evidence that legalization increases the probability of [teen] use,” and noted that "the data often showed a negative relationship between legalization and [teen] marijuana use.”
Marijuana prohibition, in which unregulated sales take place in an underground market, is the worst possible policy when it comes to keeping marijuana out of the hands of teens. In fact, there is substantial evidence that it is actually increasing its accessibility to young people. By forcing marijuana into an underground market, we are guaranteeing that sales will be entirely uncontrolled and that the individuals selling it will not ask for ID. Under Amendment 64, marijuana sales will be conducted in a regulated market in which checks for proof of age are mandatory and strictly enforced.
Despite marijuana’s illegal status, teens consistently report that marijuana is universally available, and surveys show high school students across the nation can buy marijuana easier than they can buy alcohol or tobacco. Strictly regulating these legal products and restricting sales to minors have lent to significant decreases in use and availability among teens, and there is little doubt we would see similar results with marijuana.
The High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey released this June by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) highlights the need to regulate marijuana. It found that levels of teen marijuana use are increasing nationwide, whereas levels of alcohol and cigarette use among teens are decreasing. In other words, regulation is working; prohibition is not. See graph above.
According to the survey, significantly more teens in the United States are using marijuana than cigarettes. Just more than 23 percent of high school students nationwide reported using marijuana within 30 days of taking the latest survey, up from 20.8 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, 18.1 percent reported past-30-day cigarette use, down from 19.5 percent in 2009. Over the past several years, the survey has shown that cigarette use and availability among teens, which had been sharply increasing in the early 1990s, began steadily declining shortly after the 1995 implementation of the "We Card" program, a renewed commitment to strictly restricting the sale of tobacco to young people, along with a focused effort on public education.
It is also worth noting that the latest CDC survey found that, since Colorado began regulating medical marijuana, there has been a significant decline in students reporting that they have been “offered, sold, or given an illegal drug by someone on school property." From 2009 to 2011, it dropped from 22.7 percent to 17.2 percent in 2011, whereas at the national level it increased from 22.7 percent to 25.6 percent. These statistics suggest that not only does the increased regulation of marijuana reduce use among teens; it may actually reduce teens' access to illegal drugs.
By keeping marijuana illegal, we are forcing those who seek it into an underground market where it is sold exclusively by individuals who are willing to break the law. Naturally, some of these individuals will have other illegal products available, including drugs that are far more harmful than marijuana.
“The more users become integrated in an environment where, apart from cannabis, hard drugs can also be obtained, the greater the chance they may switch to hard drugs,” according to a report published in 1997 by the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction. “Separation of the drug markets is therefor essential.”
Amendment 64 would regulate marijuana and restrict its sale to licensed stores, as we currently do with alcohol. In doing so, it will dramatically reduce consumers’ exposure to harder drugs and their temptation to experiment with them. It will also ensure that consumers know what they are getting when they purchase marijuana. Illegal marijuana dealers are not subject to quality standards, and they are not testing or labeling their products. In a regulated marijuana system, such as that proposed by Amendment 64, marijuana producers and retailers will need to adhere to strict rules and regulations similar to those governing the production and sale of alcohol.
Marijuana prohibition has relegated the sale of marijuana to criminal enterprises and, increasingly, drug gangs. In doing so, it is exposing many consumers to more harmful people. And since marijuana is illegal, these individuals are unable to rely on law enforcement officials to step in when business-related disputes and incidents occur. All too often, this results in violence that affects not just marijuana dealers and consumers, but the broader communities surrounding them.
Marijuana is also a significant source of income for individuals and groups involved in other criminal activities. For example, much of the violence escalating on the Mexican border revolves around the actions of Mexican drug cartels fighting over profits from marijuana sales. In fact, former U.S. Drug Czar John Walters told the Associated Press in 2008, that marijuana is the biggest source of income for these ruthless narcoterrorist organizations. Whether they are large-scale drug cartels or small-town street gangs, the vast supply and demand surrounding marijuana will ensure they have a constant stream of profits to subsidize other illegal activities. Regulating marijuana like alcohol would eliminate this income source and, in turn, eliminate the violence and turf battles associated with the illegal marijuana market.
Finally, the illegal marijuana market puts money in criminals' pockets and takes it out of taxpayers'. Drug dealers do not collect taxes on their sales, and they do not pay taxes on their income. Under Amendment 64, all sales of marijuana will be subject to state and local sales tax. The General Assembly must also enact an excise tax of up to 15 percent on wholesale sales of non-medical marijuana, the first $40 million of which will be directed to the state's public school construction fund each year.