Logical Reasons to Legalize Cannabis
by: Swami Chaitanya
First and foremost, no one wants to take away your right of local control, embedded both in AUMA (aka Prop. 64) and in the State Constitution.
The purpose of this missive is to make a logical presentation of the many advantages of opening your jurisdictions to legal cannabis and to the several disadvantages to maintaining a prohibition of legal cannabis.
This is not to discount some people’s religious or moral objections to cannabis. In the Holy Bible, in Genesis God gives Adam and Eve the use of all seed-bearing plants. This surely includes cannabis. The seeds are a valuable source of food, containing vitamins, minerals, and all the essential fatty acids. And the stalks are a valuable source of fiber and building materials, to name just a few uses of the plant. These uses are so important it is unlikely that God would forbid the use of this plant which is so beneficial to humankind.
Second, there has never been a documented death caused by a cannabis overdose. Compare that to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused annually by alcohol abuse and tobacco abuse, which are everywhere obtainable.
Third, many Traditional Medical practices incorporate medical cannabis into their treatment protocols and have done so for thousands of years, particularly in Indian Ayurvedic medicine and in Chinese medical formulations.
Western allopathic medicine also had cannabis in its pharmacopeia until prohibition started in the US in the late 1930s. Now there are new medical uses of cannabis being discovered every day and thousands of patients find relief from ailments that no other medicine offers. Particularly the opioid epidemic has found that cannabis can reduce dependence on opioids and even replace them with non-addictive pain relief.
Finally, if you separate the political hyperbole, the two main objections to cannabis legalization have been thoroughly debunked by careful scientific investigations.
There is no evidence that “pot” smoking leads to the use of “harder drugs”. Indeed, teenage cigarette smoking or alcohol consumption is an equally accurate predictor of later drug use. Most youths obtain these substances at home from the liquor cabinet or the medicine chest, because their parents use them.
Similarly, while there can be a “weak” association between cannabis smoking and the development of schizophrenia, there is no evidence of which causes which. That is, it is quite likely that people who already have mental problems, seek out cannabis for relief. Additionally, youth cigarette and alcohol use are also associated with later mental problems. But again, it is not clear which causes which, or which came first.
Now, let’s look at the benefits of creating a legal cannabis market.
Cannabis businesses create jobs, both directly and indirectly. Local employees spend their earnings locally, and they pay sales and property taxes. In the current uncertain economic situation, cannabis has been deemed an essential business. Hence, most cannabis companies are open for business and spring planting has begun farms. New job opportunities abound in the cannabis profession on many levels.
Local cannabis cultivators bring great benefit to the city and county. Besides the permit fees and the direct taxes on cannabis, farmers hire workers, pay property tax, and pay sales tax when they buy tools, fertilizers, equipment, vehicles, food, and clothing in their local shopping areas. They hire local professionals and contractors. They build new facilities at their farms and raise property values by obtaining cultivation permits and water rights. They comply with zoning and building codes and with the regulations of the Water Boards and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. This protects the environment.
On the other hand, illegal outdoor growers sometimes wreak havoc on the natural environment and illicit indoor grows often present fire and pollution hazards. Grows in suburban areas can bring unwelcome traffic to residential neighborhoods.
Local manufacturers of cannabis products, [such as tinctures, edibles, salves and ointments, topicals, oils, concentrates] hire local people, rent or buy properties, and pay taxes. They source their raw materials in the county, buy equipment locally, and hire local professionals and contractors. They upgrade their facilities to meet code requirements and pollution standards, adding to the tax base.
Local distributors and dispensaries do the same, hiring locally and buying from local growers and manufacturers. Along with manufacturers, distributors and retailers can bring life to neglected commercial and industrial zones of cities and counties, stimulating the economy, while also enabling these governments to enforce zoning and building codes.
Local retailers supply the needs of local patients and recreational users, who thus do not need to leave the county or call for an outside delivery service. This brings savings to the consumer and tax to the county.
Then we must also consider all the ancillary businesses which serve and supply cannabis entrepreneurs with materials, machinery, and equipment, from vehicles to irrigation systems to construction supplies.
It is ironic that the result of prohibiting legal cannabis businesses in numerous cities and counties in California is that the illicit market has been given new life and is thriving, exactly what the passage of Prop 64 was supposed to prevent. You can be sure that cannabis consumers in jurisdictions where it is not legally available are very clever at finding alternative sources for their medical and recreational needs. Even more so during the current COVID-19 shelter in place rules.
The recent medical problems with vape pens, with one or two exceptions, all came from underground and counterfeit products sold by illegal vendors. Legal cannabis dispensaries protect residents by providing them with safe tested cannabis products from reputable companies, diverting customers from the risks of the illegal market, and back to a regulated market.
By not allowing legal cannabis in their jurisdictions cities and counties have turned the market over to the illegal players, putting their citizens at risk with untested products. These governments also collect no taxes or permit fees and can’t enforce building codes or zoning ordinances, while at the same time over-burdening the police department with non-violent crime issues. In a legal market, many other government agencies besides the police force are tasked with monitoring cannabis businesses to ensure their compliance with all the laws and regulations which protect the public. This frees up law enforcement to focus on real problems and real crime.
Legal cannabis businesses pay taxes, but at the moment these taxes are set much too high in those places where cannabis is legal. This is a barrier to entry for smaller cultivators and entrepreneurs and encourages them to stay in the illicit market. More equable taxes would bring in more participants while generating the same amount of revenue.
The more cannabis businesses become legal, the more control the local jurisdiction has. Not legalizing abrogates the legal and fiduciary responsibility of the local jurisdiction for its citizens, and for the city or county as a whole. This leaves the field open for illicit and unscrupulous businesses to take over.
Recent surveys on cannabis issues in states that have legalized cannabis indicate that alcohol and cigarette sales are down. Teen use of cannabis is reduced or the same. Violent crime and domestic violence are reduced while tax income keeps growing. What’s not to like about legal cannabis?
Let’s face it, if this were any other business, like Amazon or Costco or a brewery, which was intending to open up in a city or county promising to hire hundreds of local workers, build new buildings or improve existing properties, bring foot traffic to commercial districts and bring in millions of dollars in taxable revenue, local authorities would be offering tax discounts and zoning variances and falling all over themselves to secure that business for their municipality. But because it is cannabis, old prejudices seem to prevail over common sense and the commonwealth.
Legalizing cannabis is the single best thing local jurisdictions can do for their citizens and for their bottom line.
Photos courtesy of Swami Select