False and misleading information and money are the basis of the drive to legalize the recreational use of marijuana (pot) in New Jersey.
Remember how the opioid crises started? In 1988 an article appeared in the reputable New England Journal of Medicine which concluded that based on “scientific studies,” the use of opioids for pain management would not create addiction. A worldwide epidemic resulted from premature conclusions based on limited studies coupled with greed.
We have heard it all why recreational pot should be legalized. Myths over time unless challenged become accepted as fact. The most often heard myths follow.
Myth 1: The jail population, especially of minorities, will be reduced.
Truth: Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational pot. One ounce was legalized in seven states; two ounces in one state and D.C. In reality, few if any are incarcerated for possessing such small amounts of pot.
Myth 2: Pot is not harmful.
Truth: Pot is a schedule l drug under federal law because of its high potential for harm. Credible studies found clear indications that pot use, especially when started young, adversely affects brain development, motivation, impulse control, mental abilities, and the occurrence of psychosis and schizophrenia. Anyone who doubts the harmful effects of pot should ask an experienced teacher, police officer or addiction counselor how someone acts when “stoned” on pot. Put a “stoner” behind the wheel of a car, in the driver’s seat of a forklift or in a classroom setting and the results are bad for the individual and society.
Myth 3: Pot use does not lead to use of other drugs.
Truth: An overwhelming percentage of drug addicts started out smoking pot. A senior probation officer said pot is “socially addictive.” His point is that conduct engaged in by others in a group setting influences conduct of others in the same group. Pot use often leads to meth or cocaine use, which often leads to heroin use.
Myth 4: Pot use is no worse than alcohol.
Truth: One is just as bad as the other. The harm from the use of pot previously noted has rippling negative effects on individuals and society just as with alcohol. An example is the increase in DWI arrests attributed to pot use where pot has been legalized. Just as with alcohol, pot use causes social dysfunction and carnage on highways.
Myth 5: Law-enforcement resources are being wasted.
Truth: Few resources are devoted to the use or possession of up to 2 ounces of pot.
Myth 6: It is inevitable.
Truth: Nothing in politics is inevitable. It is a copout to accept this myth.
So why are some politicians hell-bent on legalizing recreational pot? The answer is MONEY!
There are few options for politicians to solve New Jersey’s serious financial problems. Along comes “The Answer.” Think about it. Many millions of new revenue would flow into Trenton from the sales tax, income tax and permit fees. And there will be created a huge new pot bureaucracy in Trenton. Hundreds of constituents will become new state employees to license, inspect, monitor, test and enforce the new pot law. Pot growers, distributors and sales entrepreneurs will prosper. Money. Patronage. Greed. What about the public interest?
Where do you think the retail pot and fancy paraphernalia stores will be located? Notwithstanding what we might be told, it is likely such stores would be located in cities where many choose not to reside. Advocates want legal pot as long it’s not sold near where they live.
Existing studies are very limited. Only eight states and D.C. have legalized small amounts of pot for recreational use. These studies only reflect the experience of six states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Massachusetts), the earliest (Colorado) from 2012, the latest (California) from 2016. Pot sales will not start until 2018 in Nevada and Maine. D.C. studies are essentially nonexistent. Moreover, the applicability of any such studies is of questionable value because of the population differences of the various states as compared to New Jersey.
The alternative should be to change existing laws, not to legalize but to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot for first-time offenders, which is widely supported.
False and misleading information and money should not be the basis of public policy. We should learn from our past mistakes with opioids.
Laws are supposed to better society. No public good will come from legalizing recreational pot.
Donald Charles, of Ocean City, is the city prosecutor and former Cape May County prosecutor.