Lawmakers in Santa Fe will soon be faced with a 30-day legislative session to pass a budget. But this year, instead of putting all hands on deck to address the serious issues with the state’s child services programs and the bottom-of-the-barrel ranking in education, legislators will be trying to ram through a bill to commercialize marijuana.
Given the ongoing pot vaping crisis and the host of health, safety and social justice harms evident in other states, the Legislature should reject this push.
According to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, New Mexico has had one of the highest rates of drug overdose fatalities in the country in the past 10 years. Government data shows marijuana users are almost three times more likely to abuse harder drugs like opioids. And despite what you might hear from pot industry lobbyists, no state that has legalized marijuana has seen a corresponding drop in opioid deaths.
In fact, researchers from Stanford University found marijuana legalization to be associated with a 25 percent increase in opioid overdose fatalities. What’s more, a study published in October found 78 percent of “legal” states experienced significantly higher rates of overdoses after legalization than states that have not legalized the drug.
Legalization is not the answer to this issue.
Speaking of fatalities, the pot industry is finding itself in the midst of a crisis. Some 55 people have lost their lives while more than 2,500 more find themselves suffering from a debilitation lung illness caused by marijuana vaping products. The industry has been quick to blame black-market products, but numerous deaths and cases of the illness have been linked to “legal” products.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned on marijuana legalization, claiming it would be a boon to the state’s pocketbook. This has not played out elsewhere. State after state has failed to realize their projected revenues and have seen law enforcement budgets strained as they are forced to counter a new, thriving black market.
A study out of Colorado found that for every dollar raised in pot revenue, $4.50 must be spent to mitigate the negative impacts brought on by legalization, such as drugged driving deaths — which legalized states have seen double.
Gov. Lujan Grisham also stated she wanted New Mexico’s marijuana regime to be focused on social equity, a claim also repeatedly trumpeted by industry promoters. And again, a promise that goes up in smoke.
In Colorado, the marijuana arrest rate for African Americans was nearly double that of whites in 2017. To make matters worse, pot shops in the state are overwhelmingly located in the areas the industry deems as its profit centers: low-income and minority communities.
Let’s be clear: Legalization is not about social justice; it is about profits for a few wealthy people. That is why Altria, the Big Tobacco giant, and other alcohol and pharmaceutical conglomerates are now trying to take over the pot business. The Legislature got it right last year by decriminalizing minor possession of the drug. This is a real example of criminal justice reform. But putting pot shops on every corner and allowing the industry to market its super-potent wares to young people is 10 steps too far.
Today’s highly potent pot is harmful and severely impacts the ability of young people to learn, impairs memory, increases the risk of serious mental illness and can even lead to a loss of IQ points. It makes states less competitive and puts workers at risk due to workplace accidents. Knowing this, New Mexico lawmakers must stand firm and continue to reject marijuana legalization as they did earlier this year.
Kevin Sabet is a former senior drug policy adviser to the Obama administration and serves as president and co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. He lives in New York City.