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  • David Rozanski, JD, MBA

Vote "YES" on Michigan's Prop 1

I will be voting "YES" on Michigan Proposition 1, and you should too if you care about liberty, increased funding for items like schools and roads without raising individual taxes, or fighting the opioid crisis.



The primary excuses I see for voting against this proposition are:

  1. Risk of increased access by children

  2. It's a "Gateway Drug" OR “cannabis is much stronger than the old days”

  3. Fear of an increased number of car accidents

  4. We don't need another drug with the opioid issue at play

My purpose in presenting the following information is to educate those who are still on the fence as well as others that are open to considering new information.


1. Risk of increased access by children


First, as someone who works in compliance for the existing legal industry, I can personally tell you that regulations prevent virtually ANY risk of children accessing product from the legal industry. The ballot initiative language is very similar to existing law, in that it requires strict tracking of product as well as strict procedures that prevent anyone underage from gaining access to legal facilities or products. Moreover, regulators have taken a very stringent view of packaging that prevents the use of bright colors, cartoons, or any kind of branding that could potentially appeal to children.

Regulators and lawmakers have zero tolerance for any mistakes by facility operators, so imagine the fear that exists within owners. What sense does it make to put an entire enterprise at risk for a few extra bucks? It doesn’t. That is why no legal operator will be foolish enough to serve children or target kids. If anything, you should see less use by kids as the black market dries up and educational campaigns take aim at reducing youth consumption. Recent reports have supported this idea as well in other states:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/12/11/following-marijuana-legalization-teen-drug-use-is-down-in-colorado/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.6133b99fd414 https://www.marijuanamoment.net/teen-marijuana-use-legalized-states-federal-data-says/


2. It's a "Gateway Drug" OR “Cannabis is much stronger than the old days”


Every credible study performed in recent history shoots a hole directly through the “Gateway Drug” argument. See:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ending-addiction-good/201408/marijuana-the-gateway-drug-myth

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/marijuana-gateway-drug

https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DebunkingGatewayMyth_NY_0.pdf


Essentially, there are far more people that try cannabis and never go on to try a harder drug. Even those who do move on to other substances were more likely to try nicotine or alcohol first. Individuals who abuse drugs have more complex issues at play than the fact that they decided to smoke cannabis. This is an extremely inaccurate conclusion that attempts to prove causation with a very loose correlation for a small segment of a subpopulation. In essence, it is disingenuous and bad logic.


The argument suggesting: “Cannabis is much stronger than the old days,” is equally misleading and fear-based without a sound logical premise. While it is true that strains of cannabis have been bred to have a stronger content of THC, which is the cannabinoid best known for creating the psychoactive affect known by most people, this fact is pretty meaningless. The only consequence this fact implies is that consumers should be careful about dosing properly. However, this is no more true for cannabis than it is for any substance, including alcohol or caffeine. One wouldn’t chug four energy drinks in the same way it would be inadvisable for a first-time consumer of cannabis to start with 100 mg of THC. Yet, unlike other substances, the worst thing that can happen if you overdose on cannabis is nausea and passing out.


The most important thing to remember with all of this is the fact that not a single recorded person has ever overdosed on marijuana. It is physically impossible for a person to consume too much, because that person would pass out long before they could consume enough to poison their system. As such, the strength factor has zero credibility as an argument.


3. Fear of an increased number of car accidents


This is arguably the most logical concern expressed by individuals who oppose legalizing recreational use of cannabis. Any substance that can affect the mind would be detrimental for drivers, right? Not exactly. While no one should ever consume cannabis (or any substance affecting motor function) prior to operating a motor vehicle, a study performed by the NHTSA indicates that drivers with THC in their systems present no significant increased risk of accidents over sober drivers. In fact, many drivers under the influence of cannabis were found to compensate by leaving far more room between their vehicle and surrounding vehicles, in addition to driving more slowly. It cannot be stressed enough that no one should consume cannabis before driving, but the data suggests that this argument is a myth.


The Study: http://seattletimes.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/pot/files/2015/02/812117-Drug_and_Alcohol_Crash_Risk.pdf

Summary: http://blogs.seattletimes.com/pot/2015/02/11/federal-study-drivers-who-have-consumed-pot-are-not-more-likely-to-crash-than-those-who-are-sober/


There have been some articles emerging recently showing an increase in car accidents in states that have legalized recreational marijuana use. However, this is once again relying on correlation to prove causation, since the primary study examined four states with recreational use laws and compared them with four neighboring states where recreational use is illegal. For any skeptic, this should immediately raise red flags. Nevada, for example, actually saw a 10% decrease in crash-related deaths immediately after legalizing cannabis for recreational use:

https://mynews4.com/news/local/nevada-traffic-deaths-dropped-10-percent-in-first-11-months-of-recreational-marijuana


Colorado, which was one of the states reported as seeing a sharp increase in crashes since legalizing recreational use, had higher rates of crashes in 2004, which was prior to legalization. So, what caused the spikes? That is difficult to determine, but rushing to blame cannabis legalization is clearly not the answer.


“Lies, damned lies, and statistics” is a cliché that remains true of most studies conducted, because completely different conclusions can be reached by manipulating the same set of data. While some states have seen an increased number of reported crashes involving drivers who tested positive for THC in their systems, in almost every case, alcohol was also present. How do you control for alcohol vs. THC impairment in a study based on reported crashes? The answer: You can’t. As such, any conclusions are speculative at best. At the very least, more research is required. In every study performed, alcohol remains the biggest risk to driver impairment and related accidents. Those who are worried about traffic-related deaths should be far more worried about the prevalence of drunk driving.


4. We don't need another drug with the opioid issue at play


This argument is used primarily by individuals who worry about the negative societal impacts due to a rise in cannabis use. While this may be a valid concern for any big societal change, it is misguided for a variety of reasons.


First, it ignores the fact that the government should not act as a nanny state, especially when negative societal impact has yet to be proven. Any individual remotely concerned with liberty should support the end to prohibition, because regulating the behavior of adults, when said behavior only affects the individual engaging in it, is always a dangerous prospect. Consequences should always exist when externalities are present, but that should not necessitate outright prohibition of behavior if it generally does not cause an externality. This is a philosophy that a majority of individuals support in some form or another, but it should be consistently applied.


The second major reason this argument fails is because prohibition fails to prevent use of cannabis. In the same way that alcohol prohibition failed in the 1930s, the “War on Drugs” has failed to achieve its goals. To avoid unnecessary tangents, I will focus specifically on cannabis. A black market exists when consumers refuse to abide by prohibitive policies. Cannabis consumers have continued to exist, despite decades of enforcement. This has resulted in an unacceptable number of nonviolent offenders taking time and resources away from law enforcement for a substance that is completely non-lethal. Additionally, tax funds are wasted by putting individuals in jail/prison and making it hard for those same individuals to find jobs after release simply for possessing or smoking the plant. Anyone concerned with reducing government spending and cutting taxes should be more concerned about this drain on resources, in addition to the injustice. Imagine being sentenced to spend six months in jail for drinking a cup of coffee. The enforcement of cannabis-related criminal laws is not materially different when you examine negative impacts of both substances on society-at-large. For additional reading, see:

https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/four-decades-counting-continued-failure-war-drugs


In the case of cannabis, there exists a market for both medical needs and recreational desires. An increasing number of people are accepting the fact that cannabis has medicinal qualities. More individuals should also realize that cannabis use is no more inherently bad than consuming caffeine, alcohol, or even sugar. One should not arbitrarily decide that one substance (cannabis) should be illegal while another (alcohol) should not. Arbitrary creation and/or enforcement of the law is an evil that results in grave injustices for many, but especially those who cannot afford highly skilled legal defense. Alcohol and nicotine result in far more health-related consequences and deaths than cannabis. For those worried about a cultural impact, cannabis would be a far better alternative to alcohol, which is central in American culture. While, I would not attempt to move from one prohibition to another, it appears disingenuous to concern oneself with societal harm of a substance that is objectively safer than another substance that is already legal and features prominently in most social events. For a more in-depth comparison, see:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/we-took-a-scientific-look-at-whether-weed-or-alcohol-is-worse-for-you-and-there-appears-to-be-a-a8056186.html


Lastly, there is the concern often expressed in relation to the opioid crisis. The comparison, in terms of safety, between cannabis and opiates is analogous to comparing laser tag with the operation of a rocket launcher. While both activities could have some risks identified, it is clear to any rational individual that one activity is far riskier and more dangerous than the other. In addition to this simple fact, marijuana is increasingly being used to treat serious addictions, such as opiate addictions:

https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/29/health/medical-marijuana-opioids/index.html

States that have legalized cannabis have also seen a noticeable decrease in opioid use and opioid-related deaths:

https://drugabuse.com/legalizing-marijuana-decreases-fatal-opiate-overdoses/

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/04/02/598787768/opioid-use-lower-in-states-that-eased-marijuana-laws


Conclusion


While this is not an exhaustive explanation for why recreational cannabis use should be legalized, it does deconstruct the most popular arguments against legalization. The most important takeaway is to remember that cannabis is a non-lethal, non-addictive (chemically) substance that adults should be free to use without fear of losing their liberty. Regardless of whether you are a consumer or not, we, as a society should create policy that maximizes liberty and freedom while minimizing tyranny and negative societal impacts. Prohibition of cannabis has resulted in far more harm to society than benefit. As a result, it is time for the public to educate itself regarding this issue and support a move towards common sense. Michigan, and all states that consider this issue should bear in mind the importance of prioritizing liberty over fear. There has been a proliferation of bad information and fear-based propaganda regarding cannabis since around the same time that alcohol was federally outlawed. The Age of Information is changing that, but we should all strive to do more of our own research so that our conclusions regarding any policies are well-informed and non-prejudicial. Supporting Proposition 1 is a great step in the right direction, so I hope you’ll join me in supporting it by voting “Yes.”

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