Because regulation works! And it’s time for a new approach to cannabis.
The debate over cannabis regulation isn’t about whether cannabis should exist or whether people should use it. The reality is, even after decades of prohibition, cannabis is used by large numbers of people and is clearly here to stay. Given that reality, the question is how Maryland can most effectively regulate cannabis — ensuring the rights and freedoms of responsible consumers while working to reduce the harms of both cannabis use and our marijuana policies.
Our state’s policies must not harm innocent people, but should instead advance social justice, protect youth, promote public health, and create jobs. Here are several reasons why taxing and regulating cannabis like alcohol will help accomplish those goals.
- Taxing and regulating cannabis will create thousands of new jobs and bring in millions in tax revenue. In Colorado, a state with a smaller population than Maryland, the state brought in more than $240 million in adult-use cannabis tax revenue in fiscal year 2018. The cannabis industry will also create thousands of good, middle-class jobs for Marylanders; Colorado has issued over 40,000 active licenses to individuals to work directly in the cannabis industry.
- Arresting, citing, and prosecuting cannabis offenders sends an incredible number of people through the criminal justice system. Post-decriminalization, there is still a huge racial disparity in cannabis arrests in Baltimore. The collateral consequences of a criminal conviction can have life-altering effects. By legalizing and regulating cannabis with robust measures to expunge records, the number of lives derailed will be greatly reduced, and those harmed by prohibition in the past can move on with their lives.
- Prohibition breeds violence. As with alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, since drug-related disputes can’t be solved lawfully, violence is inevitable. As a result, cannabis users and sellers face dangers due to prohibition. In Prince George’s County, the chief of police attributed a 25% increase in homicides in 2016 to the illegal cannabis market.
- Regulation keeps cannabis sales away from schools. Unlike licensed businesses selling liquor or tobacco, sellers of cannabis are pushed underground and operate virtually anywhere. More than 40% of high schoolers know a peer who sells cannabis in school, while less than 1% have a peer who sells alcohol. Regulating cannabis would move sales into safe, licensed retail stores where workers check ID, instead of schools. According to the most comprehensive surveys, no state has seen an overall increase in teen marijuana use outside of the confidence interval since adult-use laws passed. Meanwhile, two nationwide surveys show a modest decrease in teen use since states began legalizing cannabis for adults.
- Public education works to address public health concerns. As a result of strict regulations on cigarette sales and advertising, plus a robust public education campaign, cigarette smoking by teens has declined by 84% since 1997. A portion of tax revenues generated from taxing cannabis can be used to fund public education and law enforcement training to combat driving under the influence.
- Prohibition makes control impossible. Prohibition deprives workers and the environment of the legal protections they are entitled to. It also guarantees cannabis won’t undergo quality control testing, resulting in possible contamination by hazardous pesticides, bacteria, or the lacing of cannabis with other drugs. Regulated retailers will sell only products that have been lab-tested and labeled for potency.
- Regulation can free up resources so police can focus on more serious crimes and also help improve police/ community relationships. From 2007 to 2017, only 35 percent of homicides in Baltimore have resulted in an arrest. Additionally, a Department of Justice study found that trusting relationships with the local community was one of the most important factors in whether police were effective in solving violent crimes. As Washington, D.C.’s former police chief put it: “All these [marijuana] arrests do is make people hate us.”
- Cannabis is safer than alcohol. The Institute of Medicine has found cannabis to be far less addictive than alcohol or tobacco. Unlike alcohol, cannabis has never caused a fatal overdose and is not associated with violent crime and domestic violence. Adults should be able to make the safer choice.