Legalizing pot comes with costs

Most forecasters expect a majority of voters to say yes to Proposal 1 on the November ballot.

Like Eric Lupher, we wish voters would stop to think about the consequences first.

Lupher is president of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, an independent, non-partisan that has worked to improve Michigan government since 1916. The Citizens Research Council does not take positions on ballot issues, but it does warn that Proposal 1 will not be without costs.

“Although Proposal 1 is couched in individual liberty, Michigan voters also should consider the social consequences of this proposal,” Lupher said. “Like alcohol and tobacco usage, greater accessibility of marijuana will create new costs for public safety and criminal justice, public health, and mental health providers.”

If Proposal 1 passes, Michigan would become the 10th state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults.

The state would collect its 6 percent sales tax on marijuana and a new 10 percent excise tax. Some estimates peg annual tax revenues at $135 million. The first problem with the estimate is that, as other states now know, pot sellers and buyers have no compunctions about operating outside the law. A 16 percent tax bite means underground sales will continue.

Second, none of that $135 million is earmarked for dealing with the problems legalization will cause, ranging from physical and mental health affects to increased drugged driving.

And as we’ve seen with ostensible medical marijuana, the marijuana black market will persist with all its negative effects, including the robberies, kidnaps and murders that have shaken Blue Water Area communities in the decade since medical marijuana was approved by voters. Illicit drug dealers will continue to be illicit drug dealers, and they play a more dangerous game than your corner beer store.

That money will go into the state’s general fund, along with savings from the Department of Corrections, law enforcement and the courts. The number of annual arrests, the CRC says, for marijuana possession exceeds those for all violent crimes combined. Research suggests there are racial and socioeconomic disparities in arrest rates as well; legalizing marijuana would make the criminal justice system more fair for minorities and the disadvantaged.

Marijuana use and possession would continue to be illegal under federal law, and employers would still be allowed to prohibit marijuana use by their employers. Recent federal court decisions, though, cloud those issues. Some federal judges, for instance, have upheld firings for failed drug tests while others have not.

Proposal 1 probably will pass in November. That does not mean it should.

— Times Herald (Port Huron)

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